Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Tests New Shepard Spaceship in Flight

30 Apr 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Space Company Just Tested its First Rocket. billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space venture, Blue Origin, launched its New Shepard spaceship almost as high as outer space during a test flight on Wednesday — and although the craft’s propulsion module was lost, the empty crew capsule made a parachute landing just the way it was supposed to. “Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return,” Bezos wrote in a recap of the test, which took place at Blue Origin’s sprawling test facility in West Texas. “In fact, if New Shepard had been a traditional expendable vehicle, this would have been a flawless first test flight.” Wednesday’s outing was the most ambitious rocket-powered flight test since 2011, when an earlier version of the propulsion module went supersonic — and then crashed. 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. Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle launched 307,000 feet into the air Wednesday atop the company’s BE-3 rocket engine at a company facility near Van Horn, Texas, about 500 miles west of Dallas. 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.

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. 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. The New Shepard is designed to carry six people to space, bringing passengers and science experiments more than 62 miles (100 kilometers) 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. Also, assembly of propulsion module serial numbers 2 and 3 is already underway – we’ll be ready to fly again soon.” Blue Origin plans to take commercial passengers into space for suborbital flights in the capsule once its testing is complete. 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. 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.

It has been secretive in the past, but as its vehicles become more mature and come closer to their operational phase, the company has slowly been sharing more information. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has sent more than a dozen payloads into orbit, including cargo capsules for the International Space Station and satellites like the one that was launched for Turkmenistan just this week.

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.

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