Tag Archives: Blue Origin

Jeff Bezos reaches space, makes it back in one piece

Jeff Bezos victorious high five after safely landing on Earth from his flight into the edge of space. Credit: YouTube capture.

On Tuesday, shortly after 9 a.m. ET, Jeff Bezos launched on an excursion to the edge of space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard, a reusable suborbital rocket. Bezos, the world’s richest person, is the second billionaire to make it into space this month, after Richard Branson’s pioneering space tourism flight aboard his Virgin Galactic spaceplane.

Although Bezos was one-upped by Branson who stole the start of the ‘billionaire space race’, today’s 11-minute flight claims its own fair share of world firsts. The suborbital flight made it past the Kármán Line, the internationally-recognized boundary of space, at nearly 62 miles (100 km) above Earth’s surface, whereas Virgin Galactic only reached 57 miles (91 km) altitude. So, technically, some argue, Bezos was the only one to make it into space out of the two.

“Only 4% of the world recognizes a lower limit of 80 km or 50 miles as the beginning of space,” Blue Origin tweeted ahead of Branson’s flight. “New Shepard flies above both boundaries. One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin.”

Joining Jeff was his younger brother, Mark Bezos, 82-year-old pioneering female aviator Wally Funk, now officially the world’s oldest astronaut, and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch physics student who is also the world’s youngest astronaut. The flight took place on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Bezos made it in space. Sort of

Today’s New Shepard crew, from left to right: Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Bezos. Credit: CBS News.

Both Bezos and Branson only spent moments in the weightlessness of microgravity. From launch to touch down, the entire trip only took 11 nerve-wracking minutes. That’s a far cry from the conventional picture of outer space travelm with astronauts floating in space as they circle Earth.

New Shepard, a vertical take-off and landing space vehicle, reached 2,300 mph (3,700 km/h), or about three times the speed of sound. Once the rocket ran out of fuel, the capsule carrying the crew separated and briefly continued its journey upwards while the booster safely landed on a platform. After a brief couple of minutes of weightlessness, the capsule deployed a plume of parachutes to slowly descend towards the ground. There was no pilot onboard as the Blue Origin capsule is operated by a fully automated flight system.

“Congratulations to all of Team Blue past and present on reaching this historic moment in spaceflight history,” tweeted Bezos’ space tourism company, Blue Origin. “This first astronaut crew wrote themselves into the history books of space, opening the door through which many after will pass.” 

Bezos officially stepped down as Amazon CEO this month. This will leave him with ample time to devote to Blue Origin, the private space flight company he founded in 2000 in which he funneled billions of his own money.

The luxurious and spacious interior of the Blue Origin capsule. Each seat has its own dedicated window from which they can observe Earth from space. Credit: Blue Origin.

Thanks to massive advances in space flight, particularly in terms of reusability, Blue Origin aims to become a major player in the private space industry, with its eye on overtaking Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

The rivalry between the two companies has extended to a personal level, with the billionaires often ridiculing each other’s efforts. Well, to be fair, it’s mostly Musk who’s doing all the trolling. Musk has previously called Bezos’ Blue Origin a “copycat,” and made fun of the company’s proposed lunar lander Blue Moon comparing it to “blue balls.”

This was New Shepard’s 16th flight and the first to include people, but more are soon to follow. Blue Origin are two more scheduled flights this year alone. Although it’s not clear how much Blue Origin plans to charge for a seat, however, we do know that Virgin Galactic aims to sell tickets for around $250,000 a pop. Mush himself has reportedly put down a $10,000 deposit for a Virgin flight, although everyone is excited about the day he will take off on one of his SpaceX rockets.

Why Jeff Bezos’ retirement from Amazon means big things for space

Credit: Blue Origin.

In a short letter to Amazon employees on February 2, Jeff Bezos announced he would be stepping down from his role as chief executive of the company, in order to focus on other initiatives. One of these initiatives is Blue Origin, a space exploration company that has been sitting in the shadow of SpaceX for years. Will Bezos use this newly opened up time and energy to finally one-up his long-time rival Elon Musk?

Jeff Bezos: space tycoon

Bezos has had one of the most epic runs in business — ever. Starting from humble beginnings in which he bootstrapped Amazon in his garage in 1995, the company is now worth $1.7 trillion. The company first started out selling books, but now offers basically everything from kitchen appliances to container houses.

After 25 years of relentless growth, Bezos, now 57, is ready to move on to other things. In his letter, he explained he’ll transition to the role of executive chair of the Amazon board, while Andy Jassy, the current chief of the incredibly successful Amazon Web Services, will step up as CEO of the company.

However, this doesn’t mean that Bezos is ready to retire to some private island and enjoy the spoils reserved for the world’s richest person. On the contrary, he seems quite keen on pursuing his other ventures.

“Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility, and it’s consuming. When you have a responsibility like that, it’s hard to put attention on anything else. As Exec Chair I will stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives but also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund, Blue Origin, The Washington Post, and my other passions. I’ve never had more energy, and this isn’t about retiring. I’m super passionate about the impact I think these organizations can have,” Bezos wrote in the farewell letter to his Amazonians.

Bezos has always been passionate about space exploration. While a student at Princeton, where he majored in electrical engineering and computer science, he headed the local chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space.

But after university, he started a career in finance, working as the vice-president of a hedge fund before founding his legendary first business. Once Amazon took off, his sights were set back to space ventures.

Not a lot of people are aware of this, but Bezos actually founded Blue Origin in 2000, which is two years before Elon Musk started SpaceX.

But while SpaceX has steamrolled its competition, including NASA itself, by launching a record number of commercial satellites and astronauts to orbit, Blue Origin is lagging far behind — or at least that’s what seems to be happening.

From what we know, which is very little, Blue Origin may actually be ahead (although that’s unlikely). Since it was founded, Blue Origin has always been shrouded in mystery and secrecy.

It was only in the last five years or so that the company’s public relations started to open up, steadily emerging from stealth. Bezos himself even welcomed a group of reporters during a tour of the company’s headquarters in Kent, Washington, where he talked about some of the company’s major projects.

One of them was New Shepard, the company’s first operational rocket and the world’s first reusable rocket that touched down on a landing pad, just a couple of weeks before SpaceX demonstrated its Falcon 9 reusability in December 2015. Granted, New Shepard can only operate in the suborbital field, while Falcon 9 has a much bigger range capable of sending payloads to orbit.

New Shepard rocket gently landing. Credit: Blue Origin.

Bezos has presided over some high-profile publicity events for the company, such as the unveiling of the Blue Moon lunar lander or the first touchdown of the New Shepard reusable rocket, his role at Blue Origin has always been limited.

Up until now, Bezos devoted around one day a week to Blue Origin operations, which he kept alive by funding the company with $1 billion of his own money every year.

Building the space infrastructure of the future

While Musk’s ultimate vision is that of founding a Martian colony inhabited by thousands of people during his lifetime, Bezos is no less ambitious. His long-term vision for Blue Origin is to provide a platform where millions of people live and work in space in free-floating colonies.

That might sound like a pipedream, but the Amazon founder speaks from experience. He witnessed first-hand how computing power and bandwidth combined to create multi-trillion dollar markets for online businesses. Once space is cheap and safe, entrepreneurs will rush to the market just like they did when they felt confident the internet was mature enough.

In fact, Bezos’s idea of the future implies that for most of us Earth would be just a place to visit. Instead, someday, much of the world’s population will live and work in space, thereby sparing the planet from pollution and the encroachment of nature. We’d visit Earth as we would a national park today..

Bezos has often remarked that there have never been more than 13 humans in space at one time. He finds this reality sad and woefully unambitious, which is why he’s funneling billions of his own money to change things.

A sneak peek of this vision can be seen in the company’s upcoming projects, which include taking tourists on suborbital trips, launching satellites on its reusable rockets, as well as astronauts to the space station, and developing a lunar lander for NASA. Mirroring SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet venture, Amazon is developing Project Kuiper, which will form a constellation of satellites meant to beam the internet to any place on Earth. Blue Origin will of course be in charge of putting all of these tiny internet satellites into orbit.

For most of the two decades since its existence, Blue Origin was often seen as Jeff Bezos’ ‘rocket company’, almost like it was some hobby, a pet project. But now that he seems more committed, Blue Origin could occupy a more central role in Bezos’ life. We know that it was his relentless drive for growth that propelled Amazon to the stratosphere, where the air is so rare only a few tech giants like Google and Apple can boast of over $1 trillion market caps. Perhaps the same attitude and energy might drive BlueOrigin to shoot for the stars. 

Crew Capsule 2.0 and its huge windows after it safely touched down on Tuesday. Credit: Blue Origin.

Blue Origin makes first test flight in over a year, tests new Crew Capsule

Blue Origin performed its first test flight in 14 months on December 12, before noon, in Texas. During the test, the company tested a new version of its reusable rocket and a capsule capable of carrying six passengers to space. Blue Origin and SpaceX are the only space ventures, private or public, which have demonstrated reusable space flight systems.

Crew Capsule 2.0 and its huge windows after it safely touched down on Tuesday. Credit: Blue Origin.

Crew Capsule 2.0 and its huge windows after it safely touched down on Tuesday. Credit: Blue Origin.

The revamped New Shepard system is equipped with a next-generation booster, which brought the novel Crew Capsule 2.0 to about 99km above sea level or almost to the edge of space. At an ascent velocity of Mach 2.94, the capsule detached from the booster and fired its parachutes to gently touch the ground at only 1mph. Meanwhile, the booster made a controlled landing.

In other words, the test was a sound success.

Blue Origin, which is owned by the billionaire Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos, last fired New Shepard 14 months ago when it aced an abort-test flight. Since then, the company has mostly kept to itself. Even yesterday’s results weren’t confirmed by Blue Origin, which is very secretive, perhaps, because it’s experimenting with new technology.

The New Shepard booster made a controlled landing at just 6.75mph. Credit: Blue Origin.

The New Shepard booster made a controlled landing at just 6.75mph. Credit: Blue Origin.

For instance, during its previous test, Blue Origin’s capsule had painted-on windows. The 2.0-version has actual windows, which are 3.6 feet tall, the largest any spacecraft has even been fitted with. The inside space is also generous, the capsule offering 530 cubic feet (15 cubic meters) of interior volume. That’s comfortable enough for six passengers to perform somersaults inside.

On Tuesday, Blue Origin also launched a test dummy called “Mannequin Skywalker” with the capsule, along with commercial, research, and education payloads. The test dummy is littered with sensors whose collected data will tell Blue Origin engineers how close they are to guaranteeing passenger safety.

Mannequin Skywalker landed back safely. Credit: Blue Origin.

Mannequin Skywalker landed back safely. Credit: Blue Origin.

Both SpaceX and Blue Origin are two companies at the very forefront of modern spaceflight technology. Both are capable of launching and landing their respective rocket boosters — something that might slash costs 100-fold — but, for now, at least, the two are using different strategies. SpaceX is focused on delivering cargo (and soon people, too) to the International Space Station, with the ultimate goal of reaching Mars. Blue Origin, on the other hand, wants to do space tourism, perhaps with the first such flight ready as early as 18 months from now. There is yet no information on how much a seat would cost.

blue origin escape system

Blue Origin passes key emergency espace test for its capsule with flying colours, then soft lands its rocket too

blue origin escape system

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is currently on a stellar track record. The crown jewel is yesterday’s new crew capsule emergency escape system which successfully detached itself from Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. Not only did the capsule safely touch down but the rocket itself did so too, demonstrating for the fifth time that it’s capable of soft landing.

Reusable rockets are the new norm

The goal of this trial which fired from a port in West Texas was to safely eject the crew capsule. The rocket itself was expendable and the escape mechanism messes with New Shepard’s aerodynamics, so although they proceeded to try and land the rocket as well, Blue Origin engineers didn’t set their hopes too high. It was a welcomed bonus that they made it home with both capsule and rocket intact.

The escape system uses an additional booster mounted on the capsule which is ready to fire whenever safety systems detect the risk of something going horribly wrong. The Mercury, Apollo, and Soyuz rockets which have been extensively used for decades also have escape systems, but Blue Origin’s capsule works significantly different.

“The New Shepard escape motor pushes rather than pulls and is mounted underneath the capsule rather than on a tower. There is no jettison operation. On a nominal mission, the escape motor is not expended and can be flown again and again. We’ve already tested our pusher escape system, including many ground tests and a successful pad escape test, but this upcoming flight will be our toughest test yet. We’ll intentionally trigger an escape in flight and at the most stressing condition: maximum dynamic pressure through transonic velocities,” wrote Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos in a blog post before the trial commenced.

This was the fifth flight for the NS2 rocket, and it’s last one too, although it could be fired again maybe. Both NS2 and the capsule itself will be retired and there’s a plan to put them in a museum.

While New Shepard is only capable of suborbital flights, Blue Origin announced in September that will soon build a new massive rocket called New Glenn capable of delivering both people and large cargo into space, or right down SpaceX’s alley. Private space flight is evolving very fast and all of us space enthusiasts can only rejoice. Common, guys, make it happen!

blue origin rocket

Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin unveils new heavy-duty rocket design meant to sweep contracts away from SpaceX

blue origin rocket

Credit: Blue Origin

The last 12 months have been really good to Blue Origin, the space company which made history after it achieved the first controlled landing for a rocket, four weeks before SpaceX’s Falcon. While Blue Origin has landed very good contracts this year, particularly with NASA to deploy tech payloads on suborbital flights with the New Shepard launch vehicle, the company’s eye has always been on space tourism. Now, it seems that Jeff Bezos has bigger plans after the Blue Origin founder announced a new massive rocket called New Glenn capable of delivering both people and large cargo into space, or right down SpaceX’s alley.

Should Elon Musk be worried?

The two-stage 270-foot New Glenn will have 3.85 million pounds of thrust, making it the tallest rocket available on the market today, including SpaceX’s Falcon 9 (224 feet). Only the iconic Saturn V rocket (363 feet tall) which put on the moon during the Apollo era is taller, but it has long been discontinued. There’s also a larger 3-stage version of New Glenn which will stand at 313 feet tall, signifying Blue Origin means business.

“We plan to fly New Glenn for the first time before the end of this decade from historic Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral, Florida,” said Bezos in an email announcement. “New Glenn is designed to launch commercial satellites and to fly humans into space. The 3-stage variant–with its high specific impulse hydrogen upper stage–is capable of flying demanding beyond-LEO missions.”

In any event, New Glenn will mark a huge leap for Blue Origin considering its current flagship offering — the somewhat modest New Shepard rocket which is only 65 foot tall and can only do suborbital flights. New Shepard puts around 70,000 pounds of thrust, after all. What it lacks in thrust, though, it makes up in technology as it can both take off and land vertically.

New Glenn, named in honor of John Glenn who was the first American to orbit the Earth, will reportedly be capable of vertical landing too. This puts it right into SpaceX’s Falcon 9 territory which has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to ferry cargo and various supplies to the International Space Station. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, which is launched on the Falcon 9, might be soon used to carry astronauts to the ISS but after the company’s most recent launch ended in a fireball, the worst failure in 14 years, nothing is certain anymore.

For the rest of us mortals, New Glenn is good news because more than anything, the space industry needs healthy competition between innovative companies.

 

 

 

 

 

The giant Stratolaunch aircraft, with a wing span the size of a football field, is set to piggyback rockets for easy orbit deployment. (c) Dynetics/Stratolaunch Systems

Microsoft co-founder announces new private space flight company

The giant Stratolaunch aircraft, with a wing span the size of a football field, is set to piggyback rockets for easy orbit deployment. (c) Dynetics/Stratolaunch Systems

The giant Stratolaunch aircraft, with a wing span the size of a football field, is set to piggyback rockets for easy orbit deployment. (c) Dynetics/Stratolaunch Systems

We’re at the dawn of a new exciting era – the private space age. More and more companies and influential businessmen have hopped on the bandwagon in the past decade, with the thought of building something truly incredible, while operating a profitable business at the same time. Richard Branson launched Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk (Paypal founder) paved the way for the promising SpaceX, Jeff Bezos opened Blue Origin, and now another business magnate is set to join these highly distinguished ranks – Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, with his newly announced Stratolaunch.

The company’s mission and objectives are extremely ambitious, to say the least. Their first project involved the building of a massive aircraft, which when completed will have the largest wingspan in the world (the size of a football field), capable of carrying manned or cargo rockets close enough for them to easily deploy in orbit. Its advanced launch system is designed such that a mid-flight booster ignites to send cargo, satellites and, eventually, people into orbit. Most likely, the aircraft will deploy SpaceX two-stage rockets, whose boosters will be released at an altitude of approximately 30,000 feet (9,100 m), before launching into space.

“Stratolaunch will build an air launch system to give us orbital access to space with greater safety, flexibility and cost effectiveness, both for cargo and manned missions.” Allen at a December 13th press conference.

The dual-bodied, 6 engine jet aircraft will be constructed by Scaled Composites, a California based aerospace design company founded by industry pioneer Burt Rutan, at which Paul Allen is the sole investor. A few specs: wing span of 385 feet (117 meters), 1.2 million pounds (more than 544,000 kilograms) in weight. It’s so large that it will require at least a 3.6 kilometer runway just to take off.

This isn’t the first time Allen has ventured into the private space industry, as he funded the construction of Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne suborbital spacecraft,  which successfully climbed to an altitude of 115,090 m in 2004. It was the first ever privately funded project to put a civilian into space. Now, with Stratolaunch, Allen intends on creating the first ever completely privately funded space company.

Building a giant aircraft which can ferry rockets, is a lot more efficient from multiple points of view. It’s more cost effective, since you don’t need to build high range rockets that directly launch into space, it cancels weather complications, and offers a substantial operational flexibility. It sounds like a brilliant business venture, but will it ever see the light of day? Well, Stratolaunch officials promise it will, since most of the design process has been completed and construction will begin soon at the Mojave Air and Space Port hangar.

“This is not a sketch,” Burt Rutan said. “It exists in hundreds of detailed drawings, and it’s relatively close to [being built] as soon as we can get a building big enough.”

“By the end of this decade, Stratolaunch will be putting spacecraft into orbit,” Allen said.

We’d love to hear and learn more about this ambitious prospect, however Stratolaunch is still in its early infancy, and like Allen stated, the first launch won’t be ready for at least a couple of years. As such, the company has no interest in sharing too much information, just enough to build some hype. Check out the company’s presentation video for its promised winged behemoth.

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