Blue Origin: Secrecy and Control Freakery


A couple of updates on the ever mysterious Blue Origin:

At Popular Mechanics, Dave Mosher looks at what is known and unknown about Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ secretive suborbital and orbital projects. This is mostly a compilation of what’s already been reported by Clark Lindsey, myself and others. It quotes an anonymous aerospace executive as saying:

“I get why they’re so secretive. It’s a competitive business environment. But we’ll ultimately see them open up a little bit. They’re taking public money, so they’ll have to at some point.”

True enough. But, there might be more to it.

Google engineer Steve Yegge has posted a long entry on Google+ that discusses, among other things, his previous time working for Jeff Bezos at Amazon. Yegge says that Bezos is “super smart” but that his micro-management “makes ordinary control freaks look like stoned hippies.”

I’ve included a couple of excerpts below: (more…)

Did Blue Origin Vehicle Crash?

An interesting update from Andy Pasztor at the Wall Street Journal on Blue Origin’s Aug. 24 test flight:

An unmanned spaceship funded by Internet billionaire Jeff Bezos suffered a major failure during a recent test flight, according to U.S. government and industry officials, highlighting the dramatic risks of private space ventures.

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NASA’s CCDev Program: Where Things Stand

Boeing's proposed commercial capsule.
Artist's conception of Boeing's commercial crew module. (Credit: Boeing)

With Boeing’s selection of Atlas V to launch its CST-100 commercial crew vehicle, the picture relating to NASA’s Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program has become a bit clearer. Without any delay, let’s dive into it.

A Big Win for Big Rocket

For an “OldSpace” rocket company under threat from new competition, United Launch Alliance (ULA) is doing pretty well here. Companies building three of the four human spacecraft that NASA is funding under CCDev 2 have selected the Atlas V as their launch vehicle. These vehicles include Boeing’s CST-100, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser, and Blue Origin’s orbital vehicle. The other company, SpaceX, has its own Falcon 9 rocket for the spacecraft it is building.

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NASA CCDev Update: Three Down, Two to Go

The government has published status updates on NASA’s five Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) 1 grants which were awarded last February. Sierra Nevada Corporation, Blue Origin and Paragon Space Development Corporation have completed their work as planned by the end of the calendar year. The Bigelow/Boeing team and United Launch Alliance have been given extensions through March and April, respectively. NASA awarded a total of $50 million for the first round; it will award about $200 million in additional grants in March.

Individual status reports follow after the break.
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Blue Origin Files for Patent on Reuseable Booster Recovery System

Blue Origin has filed for a patent for recovering a reusable booster system from the sea. Company founder Jeff Bezos is listed as a co-inventor with Gary Lai and Sean R. Findlay. The abstract is below; the full application is here.

Abstract

Launch vehicle systems and methods for landing and recovering a booster stage and/or other portions thereof on a platform at sea or on another body of water are disclosed. In one embodiment, a reusable space launch vehicle is launched from a coastal launch site in a trajectory over water. After booster engine cutoff and upper stage separation, the booster stage reenters the earth’s atmosphere in a tail-first orientation. The booster engines are then restarted and the booster stage performs a vertical powered landing on the deck of a pre-positioned sea-going platform. In one embodiment, bidirectional aerodynamic control surfaces control the trajectory of the booster stage as it glides through the earth’s atmosphere toward the sea-going platform. The sea-going platform can broadcast its real-time position to the booster stage so that the booster stage can compensate for errors in the position of the sea-going platform due to current drift and/or other factors. After landing, the sea-going platform can be towed by, e.g., a tug, or it can use its own propulsion system, to transport the booster stage back to the coastal launch site or other site for reconditioning and reuse. In another embodiment, the booster stage can be transferred to another vessel for transport. In still further embodiments, the booster can be refurbished while in transit from a sea-based or other landing site.

Suborbital Spotlight: Blue Origin’s New Shepard Platform

NASA’s Office of Chief Technologist has published detailed information about suborbital vehicles that will be available beginning in 2011 for researchers to conduct microgravity experiments. The vehicles are being built by Armadillo Aerospace, Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Virgin Galactic, and XCOR.

Today we will look at Blue Origin’s New Shepard system. The Washington State-based company is expected to begin commercial flight operations with cargo next year, with human flights following in 2012. The New Shepard vehicle will fly from Texas.

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Texas Legislation Would Block Millionauts From Suing Space Tourism Operators

Senator files bill in advance of commercial space travel
WOAI.com

Senator Carlos Uresti has filed Senate Bill 115, also known as the “Space Flight Liability” bill.  It would protect private space flight companies from being sued if passengers on board are injured or killed.  Uresti says if he would have waited to file the bill until the next legislative session in two years, that could be too late.

The start of commercial space flight has been taking off around the country.  Last week, a private ship that took off from Florida orbited the Earth in just a few hours….

On the edge of Uresti’s district, the space flight company “Blue Origin” has been launching test flights from their West Texas Launch site. Engineers expect to send up the first human being in 2012.

Read the full story.

Bids in for CCDev 2: Boeing, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada and Virgin Galactic

Boeing's proposed commercial capsule.
Artist's conception of Boeing's commercial crew module. (Credit: Boeing)

Bids were submitted to NASA yesterday for phase 2 of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, the space agency’s effort to field commercial crew launchers and spacecraft to service the International Space Station.  At stake is about $200 million in contracts that will be awarded in March.

According to press releases and media reports, the bids include Boeing’s CST-100 crew transport, SpaceX’s Falcon 9/Dragon system, Sierra Nevada’s Dream Chaser shuttle, and a new lifting-body vehicle from Orbital Sciences Corporation. Media reports indicate that Virgin Galactic has partnered with both Sierra Nevada and Orbital Sciences in separate bids.

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CCDev Third Quarter Report: Blue Origin’s Pusher Escape System

Program: NASA Commercial Crew Development (CCDev)
Company:
Blue Origin
Project:
Pusher Escape System and Composite Pressure Vessel Cabin
Award: $3.7 million

Third Quarter Progress Report
(July 1-Sept. 30, 2010)

In the third calendar quarter of 2010, Blue Origin fully completed design and assembly of test articles necessary to meet project milestones, conducted briefings of NASA project management staff, completed project milestones A2, B2, B3 and B4, including full completion of the Composite Pressure Vessel Risk Reduction Project.

Stern, Mendell, Myrabo and Davis on The Space Show

Monday, Oct. 11, 2010: 2-3:30 PM PDT: We welcome back Dr. Alan Stern, PI of the New Horizons Project. We will also be talking about research opportunities with the developing suborbital market.

Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010, 7-8:30 PM PDT: We welcome back Dr. Wendell Mendell from NASA JSC. We will be discussing lunar and planetary exploration and more.

Wednesday, Oct. 13, 7-9 PM PDT: OPEN LINES. All topics are welcome other than partisan political topics and issues. Use the toll free line rather than email or chat.

Friday, October 15 , 2010, 9:30-11AM PDT: We welcome back Dr. Leik Myrabo for updates with his Lightcraft beamed energy work.

Sunday, October 17, 2010. 12-1:30 PM PDT: We welcome back Dean Davis to discuss America’s Manned Space Program Future and more.

Will the Public Finally Get a Peek at Blue Origin’s Work?

My friend Clark Lindsey at Hobby Space found this update on Blue Origin’s work on creating a pusher escape system and composite vessel cabin. NASA funded the $3.7 million project in January as one of five grants given for commercial crew development (CCDEV).

The report indicates that the project is now more than 50 percent complete and directly generated 22.5 full-time jobs at Blue Origin. It indicates that “following completion of the CCDev activity, Blue Origin plans suborbital flight test at private expense.” The company also will conduct a drop test of the composite test cabin.

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An Update on Blue Origin

Van Horn spaceport gets NASA backing
El Paso Times

The project’s most visible breakthrough came in 2006, when it vertically flew and landed an egg-shaped rocket it calls New Shepard.

Last month, Blue Origin was one of five commercial aerospace companies to receive federal money for rocket research. NASA awarded the company $3.7 million to work on an advanced technology, which detaches a crew cabin from its launcher if the shuttle malfunctions.

The link with NASA placed the company as a finalist in the suborbital space race. It gave more credibility to the project, which has been silent about most developments for about three years. Federal Aviation Administration officials said Blue Origin does not have an active experimental flight permit. But the company could be getting ready to launch three people into space in 2011 and 2012.

Until then, company executives said, they would not reveal any more information.

Read the full story.

Space Review Looks at NASA’s Plans, Blue Origin

This week in The Space Review:

  • Jeff Foust looks at what is known about the mysterious Blue Origin space company.
  • John Mankins identifies what the critical technologies needed to enable cost-effective human exploration beyond Earth orbit.
  • Stephen Metschan argues for a third path for NASA to explore space that doesn’t involve completely scrapping the Constellation program.
  • Taylor Dinerman offers some advice from history on more effective ways for NASA to roll out new plans.
  • Dwayne Day begins a look at an effort thirty years ago by the Air Force to develop a small air-launched reusable vehicle.
  • Jeff Foust reviews a new play that focuses on how astronauts re-adjust to life on Earth after their spaceflights.

Blue Origin Gives First Public Presentation

Gary Lai of Blue Origin gave the company’s first public presentation at the Next Generation Space Researchers Conference in Boulder yesterday. The secretive Kent, Wash.-based company – founded by Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos – is developing its New Shepard vehicle for suborbital missions.

Jeff Foust posted notes on the presentation via Twitter. The key points include:

  • Crew of 3 or more for flights of 325,000 feet with rapid turnaround;
  • Propulsion module and crew capsule designed to separate before landing;
  • New Shepard doesn’t necessarily look like earlier Goddard vehicle;
  • About 3 minutes of microgravity time on each flight.

NASA’s $50 Million Commercial Crew Investment to Fund Different Approaches

Sierra Nevada Corporation's Dream Chaser - a seven-person space shuttle designed for orbital flight.
Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser - a space shuttle designed for orbital flight and ISS servicing.

The $50 million in contract awards that NASA announced earlier this month will fund a number of approaches to commercial human spaceflight, including a new capsule and a small space shuttle. The space agency also spread out awards between newer, entrepreneurial companies and established aerospace giants.

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