Bezos’ secretive space company launches unmanned test flight

1 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amazon Founder’s Suborbital Spaceship Blasts Off.

In this Thursday, April 29, 2015 photo provided by Blue Origin, the New Shepard space vehicle blasts off on its first developmental test flight over Blue Origin’s west Texas Launch Site. 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.The private spaceflight company Blue Origin launched a surprise test flight of its suborbital New Shepard spaceship on Wednesday (April 29), a mission that successfully demonstrated the space capsule but failed to recover its reusable rocket booster.

The US firm’s space vehicle, called New Shepard, successfully took off from a facility near Van Horn, Texas, exceeding Mach 3 as it hit an altitude of 307,000 feet. 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. However, it is unclear whether the unmanned craft actually went into space, as the height it achieved is around 21,000 feet short of the Karman Line, recognised by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale as the official boundary of space. 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.

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. Achieving this difficult goal has so far also eluded Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has failed in its first three attempts to land a launch rocket safely on a sea-based platform. Blue Origin is among a handful of companies – including Virgin Galactic, a US offshoot of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, and XCOR Aerospace – developing privately-owned spaceships to fly experiments, satellites and people into 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.

Virgin Galactic plans to resume test flights of its six-passenger, two-pilot SpaceShipTwo vehicle later this year, following a fatal accident in October. 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. 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. 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. 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). 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.

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