Blue Origin Successfully Flies New Shepard

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Blue Origin had another successful flight of its New Shepard suborbital system on Sunday morning. The rocket and capsule soared into suborbital space from the company’s west Texas launch facility. After separation, the rocket landed safely on the ground. The capsule landed separately, with one of its three parachutes deliberately not deployed to test the safety of the landing system.

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“Any day with a rocket landing is a fantastic day,” said Blue Origin Founder Jeff Bezos during the webcast of the flight.

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It was the fourth flight of the reusable system. Blue Origin is planning additional tests throughout the year, including an in-flight test of the abort system.

 

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  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Picture Perfect. Great Job B.O.!

  • ReSpaceAge

    Let bet that system has the capability of landing without the capsule separating from the booster. Wonder if they will ever try that? Like MCT will land on Mars!
    Someone should ask blue that question Doug 🙂

  • ReSpaceAge

    I think MCTs MCS will look more like new Shepard than Dragon 2

  • Terry Rawnsley

    I loved the landing! Nice, gentle descent by the booster over the last few feet instead of the “hockey stop” landing we saw on the last attempt or the SpaceX landings. I’m sure that there is a “fuel penalty” to be paid for hovering longer but the landing looked like the rocket landings of old science fiction movies.

  • Vladislaw

    The great thing is that the rocket is already paid for, this is going to allow companies to continue testing right up to final destructive testing.

  • ReSpaceAge

    Seems to me that this vehicle may look more like MCT landing on Mars than Dragon 2 does?

    I’ll bet it is possible for Blue Origin to land their booster with their capsule still attached. They say they are planning an in flight abort test soon. That is while flying up I assume? Well maybe after that they should do an abort test just before they hit the surface on the way back down. Then do a test where the capsule stays attached to the booster, as MCTs capsule might before it touches down on Mars.

    This design concept would be safer than a giant Dragon capsule giving you escape to the surface to Mars and escape on the launch off mars on the way home.

    Imagine Falcon Heavy boosting a new Shepard to Mars for it to attempt a Red Dragon like landing? I’ll bet we see a falcon 2nd with leg reenter Mars atmosphere with a dragon 2 attached soon.

    I think What we saw here today will look very much like what Martians will seem from Musks base/city in 15 years or so

    Jeff did just say he thinks a prize for a mars sample return would be a good idea. I don’t think he would say that just for Musk s benefit

    Every one tells me to land dragon 2, Gray Dragon on the moon you need a crasher stage. Well I think a crasher stage with legs is a better idea.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Great job! Congratulations! Blue Origins is really moving forward.

  • ThomasLMatula

    I imagine when Falcon Heavy is ready Elon Musk will have his one reusable second stage flying that he would be able to use.

  • Vladislaw

    It is my understanding SpaceX is building two test vehicles and two operational crew dragons.

    I believe he could do a propulsive landing test with one of the test vehicles? If they are successful they will have operational crew dragons coming online for 2020 – 2022

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    It’s not that it would be a “fuel penalty”, it would be a “payload to orbit penalty”. It will be interesting to see how NS compares to Blue’s orbital class first stage landing technique. Recall that the F9 failed landing you refer to was due to running out of LOX. Sending a hundred tonnes of second stage and payload toward GTO requires a lot more propellant. I’m sure you know this, just reminding.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Well that raises a question: How much does NS cost?. That is, how much does NS cost to manufacture?, and, how much to operate/maintain on a per flight basis?. Assuming six seats at $250K, that $1.5M income (perhaps plus some experiments). Luckily they can write-off the R&D to Bezo’s pocket change, but how far is a suborbital architecture like this from being a genuinely profitable and thus sustainable commercial business?. Of course, Jeff is just using it as a prototyping method toward a reusable orbital architecture and operation, so a profitable suborbital NS may not matter too much to BO.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I’m not expecting a crew “capsule” for MCT. There’s two possibilities for such a vehicle – it would be crammed with 100+ seats for use as a landing escape system to Mars, or, it would be much smaller to accommodate flight crew and the odd returnee launching from Mars. In the first case it’s a huge mass penalty with little if no journey usable volume, for a vehicle that has to make a 3-6 month journey from Earth to Mars carrying 100 people and land 100 tonnes of payload. Also, given all the possible scenarios, how escapable is the descent to the Martian surface if the main MCT should fail?. The second option sounds more reasonable, but how many seats should you allocate to such a vehicle?, given that you’d be hoping for the MCT vehicle to operate tens or hundreds times. I think it’s more likely that MCT will be viewed more like a passenger jet liner. We will find out in September.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Dragon to Mars in 2018. Two Dragons to Mars in 2020. No mention of plans for 2022, then first MCT to Mars in 2025. They’ll be no FH upper stage going to Mars – it would have to use all it’s fuel escape from Earth anyway, and have none left to land on Mars. Whereas MCT will launch from orbit, partly to avoid having to land on Earth and partly to reduce delta-V requirements. F9 and FH are just for “get us into the market” and to “establish the principle of reusability”. Sometime in to next decade, SpaceX will want to abandon RP1 and replace the Falcon architecture, so don’t expect any grand missions using Falcon components, beyond throwing the odd Dragon at Mars.

  • Terry Rawnsley

    You are correct, of course. BTW, I wasn’t referring just to SpaceX’s failed landing. We know why that failed. I was referring to the practice by both BO and SpaceX of “waiting” until the last possible second before neutralizing descent. Both techniques seem to work but BO’s landing was more aesthetically pleasing to watch.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Maximising the descent speed makes best use of aerodynamic braking – drag increases with the square of the speed…more or less. So using rocket braking at the last possible moment makes for more efficient use of propellant. SpaceX’s “hover slam” is simply a refinement of BO’s, and early Grasshopper’s, technique of stop-and-hover before touchdown. Doesn’t look as though New Shepherd’s landing gear would support anything other than the most gentle landing and besides it’s mission profile allows for sufficient propellant to not worry. When BO moves to orbital mission profile velocities they will likely have to rethink their strategy, unless they over-size their first stage to payload ratio even more than F9 does so as to retain even more landing fuel.

  • Scott

    “SpaceX’s “hover slam” is simply a refinement of BO’s”

    Not to mention the Merlin is extremely powerful and makes hovering significantly more difficult and sensitive to the slight variations in thrust that all rocket engines experience. Hoverslam was a way to ensure that the rocket would actually touch the ground instead of hovering and then climbing back away from the pad/barge. Although SpaceX’s last landing shows they have made some significant refinements to the throttle capabilities.

    “When BO moves to orbital mission profile velocities they will likely have to rethink their strategy,”

    We will have to wait for BO to announce their strategy but I wouldn’t surprised if BO’s first orbital launcher accepted pretty substantial payload penalty to guarantee their rocket is fully reusable. The first stage could easily be similar in size to the Vulcan (with VTVL) with NS derived second stage (with VTVL) and a payload capacity similar to the Atlas V 401 or F9 v1.0. Given the high Isp of LH2/LOX tap-off cycle they should easily be able to deorbit and land the second stage within those vehicle parameters and payload capacity. I think we will have to learn to accept that kind of payload penalty if we want fully reusable launch vehicles. Just my opinion though

  • Scott

    “That is, how much does NS cost to manufacture?”

    Good question, I’d love to know too.

    “how far is a suborbital architecture like this from being a genuinely profitable and thus sustainable commercial business?”

    Well if the NS is really only low thousands of dollars to refurbish then we are looking at launch costs being primarily determined by cost to maintain GSE, facility overhead and employee salaries. Which leads me to speculate that the operation costs are mostly fixed overhead and thereby directly determined by the number of launches, which is great, more launches = lower ticket prices

  • Scott

    “I’m sure that there is a “fuel penalty” to be paid for hovering longer”

    To an extent but it is a trade off between lowering your vehicle in a controlled manner safely to the pad, spending your fuel decelerating prior to landing and the acceptable g-loading during deceleration. High acceleration is more fuel efficient because gravity losses are proportional to the amount of time spent burning your rocket to fight against gravity. And that’s why you see both BO and SpaceX doing these rapid decelerations.

    In theory it would be most fuel efficient to fire all 9 engines to stop the vehicle but the stresses would be insurmountable, and the landing would be completely uncontrollable. So the compromise SpaceX has been using recently is to fire three engines for a shorter period of time and shut down the two outboard engines to land on a single engine. BO by contrast has the ability to start their engine at (a maximum of) 110,000 lb (high deceleration) and quickly throttling down to 20,000 lb to allow for the slow decent.

  • Scott

    “how escapable is the descent to the Martian surface if the main MCT should fail?”‘

    Probably not very escapable. At least for the initial flights would you want the penalties of landing with an abort system on board? If you abort to orbit your crew is crammed inside the MCT in orbit until the next launch window opens up and you likely wouldn’t have enough fuel to return to Earth. If you abort to the surface of Mars, if you assume MCT is your return ride, you ascent vehicle would likely be destroyed in the process stranding you on the surface for at least two launch windows (assuming no back up ascent vehicle). MCT being destroyed during landing procedures could threaten your ground infrastructure which might risk leaving your crew without a return ride or surface habs.

    I’m sure at a certain point there would be enough equipment on the surface to allow safer landing zones away from the infrastructure in which case an abort system to rescue a large 100 person crew would be highly encouraged

  • Steve Ksiazek

    Right now, Blue is just reaching the 100 km mark. I assume they will want to see if they can stretch this a little more, maybe 110 or 120 km on the next non-abort test flight to increase the amount of time the payloads get in zero gravity. That will eat into the fuel reserves, but I don’t think we know how much fuel NS has to spare at the moment.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “I think we will have to learn to accept that kind of payload penalty if we want fully reusable launch vehicles.”
    I absolutely agree with this – a principle that ULA/Bruno don’t seem willing to accept at this point.

    Have BO already said that first gen orbital architecture is not aiming to have second stage recoverable?, or is my memory playing tricks. SpaceX will have a significant advantage here, in having all the return from orbit data from Dragon.

  • Scott

    “a principle that ULA/Bruno don’t seem willing to accept at this point.”

    The side effect of looking at the rocket equation from maximizing payload to orbit point of view. It’s a view that has been around since the very beginning of the Space Race. The Shuttle tried to get away from this but they missed the mark early on in the development and we saw the consequences.

    “Have BO already said that first gen orbital architecture is not aiming to have second stage recoverable?”

    I haven’t heard anything specific but I would expect them to aim for full reusability on their orbital vehicle.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I think it’s more a side effect of short-termism and a purely profit driven mentally in an environment of no competition and freely available political corruption.

  • Scott

    Good point, rockets are really hard, reusable rockets are like trying to shoot a hole in a falling quarter with a .22 while riding on a blindfolded unicorn. Or so I assume, I’ve never actually built a successful one myself

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    I think you’re exaggerating – the unicorn don’t need to be blindfolded

  • Vladislaw

    As far as launch vehicles go I would imagine it would be on the lower end of the scale. It is suborbital and that takes away a lot of costs. Also it would matter how many is he planning to build because the more that are built the lower the development costs per vehicle.

    Someone had mentioned bezos had stated more were under constructioon.

  • Vladislaw

    I believe you will see prices eventually drop to the price of a world cruise on the ocean. For a once in a lifetime event, many could have it on their bucket list and do a launch instead of letting the kids inheirit the money.. smiles

  • Vladislaw

    I believe Bezos is learning lessons on fuel from watching SpaceX and will factor that in from the start.

    That was not the case when Falcon 9 was drawn up, parachute landings in the ocean was the first option they planned. They had to upgrade to get the fuel they needed and as the last landing has shown they are stil short.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Like I say, I suspect we Bezos will be happy enough tom more or less write off development costs and I’d imagine they’ll burn through 2 or 3 propulsion modules during testing. Beyond that I’m doubtful if more than about a handful will ever be built, unless I’m grossly under estimating the $250K a seat suborbital joyride market.

  • windbourne

    It will be interesting to see what he is developing for launching small sats into LEO. Apparently going up on the same NS.

  • windbourne

    keep in mind that human launch is NOT expected to be their main source of income. THey have said that they will be launching nanosats, microsats into LEO with this. And they could do this all day long.

  • Vladislaw

    I understand that, I know he is using this just to further his orbital plans, but it is still has a lower cost of entry than orbital so I believe you will see more competition develop in this area that will eventually drive down costs.

    For me, Virgin Galactic showed you how not to do it, bezos is showing the oppostite.

  • Vladislaw

    never under estimate keeping up with the Joneses and the drive for extreme experiences…

  • windbourne

    Totally agree.
    Oddly, Bezos is basically following the same path as Musk. He is building a smaller version of something else, and is then headed towards large orbital.