The morning of Dec. 3, 2016, began like so many others in Mojave. The first rays of dawn gave way to a brilliant sunrise that revealed a cloudless, clear blue sky over California’s High Desert.
This was hardly newsworthy. For most of the year, Mojave doesn’t really have weather, just temperatures and wind speeds. It had been literally freezing overnight; the mercury was at a nippy 28º F (-2.2º C) at 4 a.m. As for Mojave’s famous winds – an enemy of roofs, trees and big rigs, but the lifeblood of thousands of wind turbines that cover the landscape west of town – there really weren’t any. It was basically a flat calm.
Let’s face it: by any rational measure so-called space tourism is a preposterously frivolous idea. Nonetheless, hundreds of thrill-seekers were willing to pay around $2,300 a minute for the ride as soon as Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture was launched in 2005. The first passenger-carrying flight was supposed to happen 10 years ago, in 2007. It slipped to 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013…now…maybe… next year.
But if once it seemed like an idea whose time would never come (leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether it ever should) Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin team—not Branson—now seems more than ever likely to be the first to deliver….
Whereas Branson over the years staged numerous junkets for the media in which success was claimed to be imminent, this April Bezos staged his first preview of the ride on Blue Shepard at the annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs with the warning that, “It’s a mistake to race to a deadline when you’re talking about a flying vehicle, especially one that you’re going to put people on.”
In less than a year of testing, Bezos has been able to do something that Branson has failed to do in more than a decade: demonstrate proof of concept….
Technically, New Shepard is the precursor of the much more ambitious New Glenn, Blue Origin’s multi-stage rocket program that will launch astronauts and satellites into orbit. (The Virgin Galactic design is an evolutionary dead end – it cannot be scaled up for orbital flight.) As he did with Amazon, Bezos has always had a very clear-eyed idea of what it would cost to get into the business, of the technical challenges, and of the time needed to master them.
It’s a good story that’s worth a read. I did notice one factual error: the tail stall and inverted spin that SpaceShipTwo experienced during a flight test occurred in 2011, not 2013.
This week, Jeff Bezos revealed how he is funding Blue Origins, when human flights on New Shepard will begin, and the approximate cost of developing the New Glenn launch vehicle.
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos said on Wednesday he is selling about $1 billion worth of the internet retailer’s stock annually to fund his Blue Origin rocket company, which aims to launch paying passengers on 11-minute space rides starting next year.
Blue Origin had hoped to begin test flights with company pilots and engineers in 2017, but that probably will not happen until next year, Bezos told reporters at the annual U.S. Space Symposium in Colorado Springs….
Blue Origin is developing a second launch system to carry satellites, and eventually people, into orbit, similar to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule.
Development costs for that system, known as New Glenn, will be about $2.5 billion.
WASHINGTON, DC (NAA PR) — The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) announced last evening at their Spring Awards Dinner that the Blue Origin New Shepard has been named as the recipient of the 2016 Robert J. Collier Trophy “… for successfully demonstrating rocket booster reusability with the New Shepard human spaceflight vehicle through five successful test flights of a single booster and engine, all of which performed powered vertical landings on Earth.”
Our New Shepard flight test program is focused on demonstrating the performance and robustness of the system. In parallel, we’ve been designing the capsule interior with an eye toward precision engineering, safety, and comfort. Here’s a sneak peek.
If you happen to be attending the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs April 3-6, come see this for yourself. The high-fidelity capsule mockup will be on display alongside the New Shepard reusable booster that flew to space and returned five times.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. (NASA PR) — The portfolio of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center will soon include large-scale satellite manufacturing following Thursday’s groundbreaking for a 150,000-square foot spacecraft factory in the center’s Exploration Park.
The Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation: 2017 Federal Aviation Administration Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST)
2016 Launch Events
Space launch activity worldwide is carried out by the civil, military, and commercial sectors. This section summarizes U.S. and international orbital launch activities for calendar year 2016, including launches licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA AST). Countries and jurisdictions worldwide that possess functional and operating indigenous launch industries are the United States, Russia, China, European Union, India, Japan, Israel, Iran, North Korea, and South Korea. Several other countries, including Argentina, Brazil, and Indonesia, are developing launch vehicle technologies.
WASHINGTON, DC, February 2, 2017 (NAA PR) — The National Aeronautic Association announced today that four aerospace projects and accomplishments will compete for the 2016 Robert J. Collier Trophy.
For 105 years, the Collier Trophy has been the benchmark of aerospace achievement. Awarded annually “… for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America,” it has been bestowed upon some of the most important projects, programs, individuals, and accomplishments in history.
It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.
A New Direction for NASA?
NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.
Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.
Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.
Although orbital launch vehicles get all the glory (and infamy when they fail), 2016 was also a busy year for the far less glamorous suborbital launch sector. There were 19 suborbital launches at various sites around the world, and two more sounding rocket launches of note where the payload didn’t go above 100 km. (more…)
NASA and various commercial companies gave updates on their programs during the International Symposium on Commercial and Personal Spaceflight this week in Las Cruces, NM.
What follows are summaries that include:
suborbital programs (Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin)
commercial cargo (SpaceX, Sierra Nevada Corporation)
commercial crew (NASA, Boeing, ULA).
The summaries are based on Twitter posts from attendees. A big thanks to Thanks to Tanya Harrison (@tanyaofmars), Frank Slazer (@FSlazer), Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust), Michael Simpson (@SpaceSharer), and Melissa Sampson (@DrSampson) for the coverage.
Video Caption: On October 5, 2016, we conducted an in-flight escape test of New Shepard’s full-envelope escape system at Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site.
This flight was our toughest test yet. We intentionally triggered an escape of the crew capsule in flight and at the most stressing condition: maximum dynamic pressure through transonic velocities. The test was conducted with the same reusable New Shepard booster that we had already flown four times.
Redundant separation systems severed the crew capsule from the booster at the same time we ignited the escape motor. The escape motor vectored thrust to steer the capsule to the side, out of the booster’s path. The high acceleration portion of the escape lasted less than two seconds, but by then the capsule was hundreds of feet away and diverging quickly. It traversed twice through transonic velocities – the most difficult control region – during the acceleration burn and subsequent deceleration. The capsule then coasted, stabilized by reaction control thrusters, until it started descending. Its three drogue parachutes deployed near the top of its flight path, followed shortly thereafter by main parachutes.
The capsule’s escape motor slammed the booster with 70,000 pounds of off-axis force delivered by searing hot exhaust. The aerodynamic shape of the vehicle quickly changed from leading with the conical capsule to leading with the ring fin, and this all happened at Max Q.
The booster was not explicitly engineered to survive an in-flight escape. The fact that the booster survived the escape, climbed to apogee and returned to execute its fifth controlled vertical landing is testament to the overall robustness inherent in its design.
Blue Origin conducted a successful abort test today in West Texas, with its New Shepard capsule separating from its booster 45 seconds after liftoff.
The capsule parachuted to the ground safely in what Blue Origin said appeared to be a nominal flight. The booster, which was not expected to survive the ignition of the escape motor, continued it ascent before touching down on the ground.
It was the fifth successful flight of booster and the seventh flight for the capsule. Both vehicles will be retired to make way for newer systems.