Thursday, April 30, 2015

Into The Blue

Click the arrow to watch the video of the April 29 test flight. Video source: Blue Origin YouTube channel.

The normally secretive Blue Origin today released videos and a press release about its test flight April 29 of its New Shepard suborbital booster.

New Shepard reached 307,000 feet, about 20,000 feet below the Kármán line, recognized by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale as the boundary where space begins at 100 kilometers.

The press release, signed by Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, refers to New Shepard as a “she” and describes “her Very Big Brother” as “an orbital launch vehicle that is many times New Shepard’s size and is powered by our 550,000-lbf thrust liquefied natural gas, liquid oxygen BE-4 engine.”

Blue Origin, like its rival SpaceX, is working Vertical Takeoff/Vertical Landing (VTVL) technology. Bezos wrote that “unfortunately we didn’t get to recover the propulsion module because we lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent.” SpaceX failed to land its reusable Falcon 9 on January 10 when it ran out of hydraulic fluid on approach to its drone ship landing pad. A second attempt on April 14 failed due to excessive lateral movement on landing.

A Blue Origin astronaut experience promotional film. Video source: Blue Origin YouTube channel.

Unlike SpaceX, Blue Origin plans to offer suborbital adventure tourism flights. That would put them in competition more with Virgin Galactic and XCOR.

Florida Today journalist James Dean reported April 10 that Cape Canaveral's Launch Complex 36 is one possible launch site for Blue Origin's orbital operations.

Blue Origin had been mentioned as a possible suitor for a commercial complex at the old Shiloh farmland site, a proposal passionately opposed by local environmentalists. Space Florida, which proposed the Shiloh site, also leases LC-36 from the U.S. Air Force.

In 2013, Blue Origin lost a bid to lease Kennedy Space Center's Pad 39A, after NASA selected SpaceX. Blue Origin proposed a multiuser pad they would lease to SpaceX until their company was ready to begin operations at an unspecified future point in time. NASA was more interested in finding a tenant ready to launch now, and SpaceX is currently investing its own money in upgrading 39A for the new Falcon Heavy. SpaceX hopes to test fire the Falcon Heavy at 39A by the end of 2015.

Blue Origin announced last September a partnership with United Launch Alliance, another SpaceX rival. ULA hopes to use Blue Origin's BE-4 engine on its next generation Vulcan rocket that will eventually replace the venerable Atlas V, which uses Russian RD-180 engines.

The BE-4 will use liquefied natural gas as a fuel, similar to the SpaceX Raptor engine which will use methane.

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