Bezos’ secretive space company launches unmanned test flight

1 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amazon Founder’s Suborbital Spaceship Blasts Off.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is also the founder of the private spaceflight company Blue Origin, and the company this week announced the successful launch the first developmental test flight for its New Shepard spaceship. “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. VAN HORN, Texas (AP) – A private space company founded by Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos has launched an unmanned spaceship in its first test flight, the latest development in the commercial space race.You’d be forgiven for forgetting, but Elon Musk and Richard Branson aren’t the only billionaire magnates at the helm of a spacecraft company, gunning to rule the future of privatized space flight. Powered by the recently completed BE-3 engine, the rocket blasted off from Blue’s privately owned test site in West Texas on Wednesday (the time was not disclosed) and soared almost to the edge of space 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the planet.

The release adds that “we’ve already been in work for some time on an improved hydraulic system” and that assembly of the next two propulsion modules is already under way. Bezos said the redesigned vehicle went up to 307,000 feet (93.6 kilometers), thanks to Blue Origin’s next-generation, hydrogen-powered BE-3 rocket engine. Its website says New Shepard, which can carry at least three people, aims to eventually fly over 62 miles above Earth, the recognized boundary of space. Named after the first US astronaut in space, Alan Shepard, the craft is meant to take off and land vertically, utilizing a reusable first-stage booster—the same approach SpaceX is using in its Falcon 9 rocket.

One major goal of the New Shepard spacecraft is reusability—being able to recover the various components that help the spacecraft get up into the air (mainly, the rocket booster). Also, assembly of propulsion module serial numbers 2 and 3 is already underway—we’ll be ready to fly again soon.” Wednesday’s New Shepard test flight reached a maximum altitude of 58 miles (93 kilometers)—just a few miles short of the 62-mile-high (100 km) boundary between Earth and space. Like SpaceX’s Falcon first-stage rockets, Blue Origin wants to land its boosters vertically back at the launch sites so they can be refurbished and reused. “We continue to be big fans of the vertical takeoff, vertical landing architecture. Bezos said guidance, navigation and control was “nominal” through the ascent, and the crew capsule’s separation from the propulsion module was “perfect.” However, the propulsion module’s hydraulic system lost pressure during its descent. If any of them can figure out how to land a rocket successfully back on the ground, each delivery—either of people or supplies, like SpaceX has been getting up to the International Space Station—will only cost the fuel it takes to power the rocket’s ascent, instead of the cost of an entire spacecraft.

This time, Blue Origin’s craft successfully recovered its crew capsule, which separated from the rocket booster and drifted to the ground under three parachutes. “Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return,” Bezos wrote in an announcement. While the company has not released any pricing details for its passenger flights, Bezos did unveil an online sign-up portal for potential customers in Wednesday’s announcement. In a Blue Origin video posted on YouTube, with production values worthy of Amazon Video, Jeff Bezos can be seen in the Texas control room Wednesday, watching with intensity as his baby roared into the sky.

During a teleconference conducted earlier this month, Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson said dozens of test flights would have to be conducted before the start of commercial operations. “We’re probably a few years away from selling tickets, at least from flying our first astronaut,” he said. (The company’s website is already taking signups, however.) At the same time, Blue Origin is developing an orbital launch system that will use a much bigger BE-4 engine, powered by liquefied natural gas. Musk’s company has been testing a procedure to have the Falcon’s first stage fly itself back to a landing pad, and by 2017 or so, SpaceX could start flying astronauts to the space station for NASA. We suppose that’s a better name than our idea: “The Great Space Bus.” Using Google means an easier online life—from email and online storage to news and digital maps. On the suborbital front, Blue Origin’s biggest competitor is Virgin Galactic, which suffered a fatal accident during a test flight last October and is currently working on its second SpaceShipTwo rocket plane.

But the search giant can also take over your TV with the Google Chromecast , a streaming dongle that tops Amazon’s own Fire TV Stick on the company’s list of best-selling electronic devices. Unlike SpaceX, which seems to prefer releasing grainy Vines of every sordid crash, Blue Origin hardly makes headlines, preferring a much more tight-lipped approach (the company’s existence wasn’t even publicly known until 2003). Part of its appeal lies in its pure portability, but there’s also the price: just $35 to wirelessly stream Netflix, Spotify, HBO GO, Hulu Plus, and more from your mobile device or PC to the TV. Between these competing companies, we’ll keep on hoping for more clips—although Bezos seems to have a leg up in terms of production value, if the cheesy music is any indication. Google announced a few updates for Chromecast at Google I/O last year—from Android mirroring to options that will make your Chromecast screen more aesthetically pleasing.

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