Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Techy Tuesday - Space Tourism Getting Closer

Yesterday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' spaceflight company Blue Origin successfully ran a rocket into space, returning the capsule under parachute, but landing the separated launch vehicle on nearby target at a gentle 4.4 mph.

The Blue Origin launch vehicle New Shepard, consisting of a BE-3 rocket and crew capsule, lifted off from the west Texas sands, traveled to the legally defined limit of space of 100 km (62 miles) and returned.
Bezos boasted that the BE-3 is "now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas, [and] is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket." He added that "it flew a flawless mission -- soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 199-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four-and-a-half feet from the center of the pad." In the video below, you can see the rocket approaching the ground at dramatically high speeds, then slowing rapidly with a final rocket thrust as the landing gear deploys. Meanwhile, the drogue parachutes on the capsule unfurled at 20,045 feet, helping the crew craft make a (fairly) gentle desert "splashdown."
I'll embed this one.

The main purpose of this rocket, at least if you poke around their website, appears to be space tourism. They will take six people up at a time, once this gets going, for four minutes of weightlessness and the "biggest windows in space".  They also advertise:

Designed with researchers in mind

With approximately three minutes in a high-quality microgravity environment, an apogee of over 100 km, and a comfortable shirt-sleeve cabin environment, our New Shepard system is ideal for microgravity physics, gravitational biology, technology demonstrations, and educational programs. You’ll also have the opportunity for Earth, atmospheric, and space science research.
Given that, I think the Engadget article headline, "Jeff Bezos beats Elon Musk's SpaceX in the reusable rocket race" is not just misleading, it's wrong.  SpaceX made a landing of a suborbital rocket on ground over a year ago, and did it with their Grasshopper technology demonstrator in 2012.  SpaceX has failed so far to land a Falcon 9 booster on small, moving ship at sea, dropping from a greater height.  I think that's at least marginally harder due to coming from a higher starting point.  Blue Origin is catching up with SpaceX. 

More competition is good, and kudos to Blue Origin for accomplishing this.  A healthy private space program is a good thing. 


  1. Yeah, it's kind of an "apples-and-oranges" thingf aint exactly easy to do, regardless of scale..

    The missions for the two boosters are entirely different, and the Falcon weighs considerably more.

    Still, Blue Origin deserves a hearty "Well Done", as this stuf

  2. There are things we can do and things we should do and the intersection of these things is a target rich environment. But private space travel is not in that intersection. I'm not even sure any space travel makes sense never mind private space tourism. One of those things that is outside that intersection is high speed trains. Some high speed trains make 'some' sense. But for the most part high speed trains are built to spread the wealth amongst favored groups (mostly unions) and have zero to do with either need or practicality.

  3. Please do note that DC-X flew back in the early 90s:


    so neither Bezos nor Musk are stretching the envelope significantly with vertical landings. DC-X was far lower in the flight envelope than either of the rich boys' toys, being roughly the equivalent of an unmanned helicopter with limited range and no payload capability. But it also was 20 years ago, and was publicized widely enough that its methods should be readily available to anyone trying to do VTOL.

    Bezos is doing his thing out in the middle of nowhere, and there is very little risk to people if his toy fails spectacularly. Musk wants to fly his toy back to land, and Titusville residents ain't gonna be too happy if he drops it on their heads catastrophically. Musk has to work through the Eastern Test Range to make his flights, and Bezos probably has to play with the Western Test Range, because under international law the government of the country from which space vehicles launch is responsible for any problems which jeapordize people or property on the ground.

    I can prattle on longer if you want, but will stop here for now.