Amazon’s Bezos: We’ve had a successful space launch

30 Apr 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Space Company Just Tested its First Rocket.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – Blue Origin, a startup space company owned by chief Jeff Bezos, launched an experimental suborbital spaceship from Texas, the first in a series of test flights to develop commercial unmanned and passenger spaceflight services, the company said on Thursday. On April 7, Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson said that the space company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos would be conducting its first unmanned test flights “later this year.” As it turns out, “later this year” meant “three weeks.” The company has announced that it had conducted the first flight of its New Shepard space vehicle yesterday.The company announced early Thursday morning that it has successfully launched its first rocket, dubbed the New Shepard, into a sub-orbital flight from the company’s compound in West Texas.

In a statement, Bezos, who founded and owns The Washington Post, said the engine “flawlessly” powered the unpiloted New Shepard spacecraft through its first developmental test flight. The sub-orbital spacecraft reached an altitude of 58 miles above the Earth before the unmanned capsule separated from the booster rocket and returned to Earth with the help of a parachute. The secretive company, founded and run by founder Jeff Bezos, pulled off the launch in a virtual media-blackout, and only announced that the launch occurred Wednesday in West Texas, without giving a specific time or place. We’ll be ready to fly again soon.” Blue Origin is among a handful of companies developing privately owned spaceships to fly experiments, satellites and passengers into space. Like SpaceX, the company is moving toward fully reusable spacecraft and rockets, but Blue Origin’s recovery of the vehicle’s booster wasn’t entirely successful.

Blue Origin’s goal is to for the spacecraft’s booster system to land vertically after launches so it can be easily reused, but the company wasn’t able to recover the booster Wednesday because of a problem with a hydraulic system. Bezos and Elon Musk’s SpaceX have been in a legal battle over patents on rocket reusability, which would dramatically lower the cost of future launches.

He didn’t offer a timetable, but it appears the craft was closer to launch than most expected. “Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return,” Bezos writes in a note about the launch on Blue Origin’s site. Virgin Galactic plans to resume test flights of its six-passenger, two-pilot SpaceShipTwo vehicle later this year, following a fatal accident in October. Our 110,000-lbf thrust liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen BE-3 engine worked flawlessly, powering New Shepard through Mach 3 to its planned test altitude of 307,000 feet. This is the first real demonstration of Blue Origin’s technical abilities, and it shows why United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture that currently dominates the US launch market, tapped Blue Origin to develop its next rocket engine, based on the smaller version that flew yesterday. Boeing and privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, both of which have financial support from NASA, are skipping suborbital flight and building space taxis to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station, which flies about 250 miles (418 km) above Earth.

The company also says it is working in parallel on a more powerful BE-4 engine which will allow New Shepard not just to reach space, but to remain in orbit, a much more significant challenge. Although the craft can hold three people, Blue Origin previously said the first launch will be uncrewed, and it will stay that way for a while: the company says it wants to complete about a dozen tests before sending people aboard. The company presents its vehicle and capsule both as a space tourism play, with Bezos asking for potential astronauts to sign up for opportunities to buy tickets and boasting of the largest windows on any spacecraft, and as a zero-gravity science lab for researchers.

Pricing for those flights hasn’t been announced yet, but the company’s announcement included a link to provide information to those interested in buying tickets once they’re available. Unless the company can significantly undercut competitors like SpaceX on price—if it can get reusability solved, for instance—its best bet to escape being labeled as another mogul’s vanity space business may be as a rocket engine supplier, not an independent space access company. We’re already designing New Shepard’s sibling, her Very Big Brother – an orbital launch vehicle that is many times New Shepard’s size and is powered by our 550,000-lbf thrust liquefied natural gas, liquid oxygen BE-4 engine.”

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