Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What Goes Up ...

Click the arrow to watch a Blue Origin promotional film of the New Shepard landing. Video source: Blue Origin YouTube channel.

Blue Origin released a film yesterday depicting the successful landing of its New Shepard suborbital booster.

Although the company eventually intends to offer orbital launch services from Cape Canaveral, its first step will be suborbital adventure tourism at its west Texas launch site.

The New Shepard system is a reusable booster topped by a reusable capsule. It's designed to deploy the capsule at the internationally defined edge of space, 100 kilometers or 62 miles.

Once the capsule separates, the six participants feel weightlessness for about four minutes before gravity returns the capsule to Earth with a parachuted landing.

The booster is designed to descend through the atmosphere and steer to a powered vertical landing at its launch pad.

Other companies plan to offer suborbital tourism, with different designs.

Among the more prominent companies are Virgin Galactic and XCOR.

The Virgin Galactic WhiteKnightTwo carrier and its SpaceShipTwo crew plane. Image source: Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic uses a mother ship launching from a runway to carry the passenger ship to a high altitude. The crew vehicle is dropped, then its rocket engines take the seven passengers to the edge of space before returning to the runway.

In October 2014, the SpaceShipTwo ship VSS Enterprise was destroyed during a test flight when the co-pilot apparently prematurely deployed the feathering system.

The XCOR Lynx Mark I. Image source: XCOR.

The XCOR Lynx is a two-crew rocket plane, a professional pilot and paying passenger. The rocket engine would launch the crew to the edge of space, be weightless for five minues, then glide back to a landing at the runway. The adventure would last about thirty minutes. XCOR bills the Lynx as “the world’s first Instantly Reusable Launch Vehicle (I- RLV).”

XCOR announced November 25 that two company founders were “stepping back from their current positions” to “turn their attention to pursue other interests.”

Although some media have compared the Blue Origin achievement to attempts by rival SpaceX to return a first stage booster, the Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) is more akin to the McDonnell Douglas DC-X Delta Clipper tests in the 1990s.

A July 7, 1995 DC-X test flight at White Sands, New Mexico. Video source: Samuel Coniglio YouTube channel.

The highest altitude reached by Delta Clipper was 10,300 feet or 3,100 meters.

According to an August 2010 Air & Space article, “Several DC-X engineers are involved in Blue Origin, the commercial space project funded by’s Jeff Bezos.” The article noted that two other companies, Masten Space Systems and Armadillo Aerospace, had successfully demonstrated VTOL technology.

Former NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver comments November 24 on the Blue Origin achievement. Video source: Bloomberg Business.

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