Blue Origin Makes it a Three-peat With Saturday Launch, Recovery



Blue Origin has successfully conducted a third consecutive launch of its New Shepard reusable  suborbital booster. The latest flight of the hydrogen/oxygen single engine rocket topped with an equally reusable Crew Capsule included several new elements. First, in a welcome development, company founder Jeff Bezos advised followers via Twitter on Friday that a new attempt was forthcoming.

Bezos then went on to channel his inner Musk by providing a few details regarding the impending effort, including an increased risk profile:

Happily, the test flight, which carried two micro-gravity research experiments aboard, went off flawlessly. The accomplishment, which included an engine relight at a mere 3,635 feet, was particularly impressive considering the fact that New Shepard’s BE-3 engine uses a combustion tapoff cycle to power the turbo-pumps. Although lighter weight and less complicated than other engine configurations due to the lack of a pre-burner, the design has a tendency to be a little slower starting and ramping up to full power than other alternatives.

New Shepard’s 3rd flight took it to an apogee  of 339,178 feet (103.8 km) or just over the 100 km (62 mile) Karman line which is the generally accepted boundary of space. Once again, the detachable Crew Capsule separated cleanly and made a picture perfect landing in desert via parachute.

With Saturday’s flight, Blue Origin has taken another significant step in advancing its sub-orbital space ambitions, while also burnishing its credentials as a technically savvy company which is pushing the envelope in an increasingly fascinating competition with SpaceX to develop and demonstrate fully reusable launch vehicles. And while New Shepard itself is limited to the suborbital regime, it is also serving as a highly useful pathfinder for the second stage of Blue Origin’s planned orbital launch vehicle.

In that regard, it raises an interesting question. With a combination of near misses on barge landing attempts, as well as one spectacularly successful return to land, SpaceX is easily in the driver’s seat to become the first company to launch and then re-fly a rocket’s first stage on orbital missions. At the same time, Elon Musk’s company has de-emphasized its ambitions where second stage recovery is concerned, at least for the near future. Based on its progress to date, Blue Origin, which is years behind SpaceX in actual space launches, might very well be expected to make its eventual debut in grand fashion, with a first stage recovery taking place perhaps on the maiden flight, or very soon thereafter.

Economically viable partial recovery and re-use is huge step forward for the launch industry to be sure, and one which may soon have a winnowing effect on those who have elected to sit on the fence and let others take the risks. The real prize however, at least until someone makes the breakthrough that enables Single State to Orbit (SSTO) is the intermediate step which sees the dirty word “expendable” stricken from the launch lexicon.

That is of course Two-Stage-To-Orbit (TSTO) operations which would see complete booster re-use with only the payload fairing being jettisoned on each flight. Here is where the “new space race” could get very interesting, and perhaps where the tortoise beats the hare.

New Shepard Flight Three Experiment Videos:





About the Author:

4 Comments on "Blue Origin Makes it a Three-peat With Saturday Launch, Recovery"

Trackback | Comments RSS Feed

  1. I think it was Sam Dinkin who pointed out to me that SpaceX’s advantage in this supposed “race” is that they make money per launch whether the first stage lands successfully or not. Their experiments aren’t free, exactly — obviously there are added costs in fuel (really: increased tank length), opportunity costs in reduced maximum payload to carry the extra fuel and the landing legs (and those x-wing grids), etc. The operations and maintenance costs on that barge. Probably more. But compared to the revenue from each flight?

    Bezos’ advantage is mainly that Amazon is a profit-churning behemoth compared to Musk’s Paypal payout, which was a long time ago. He doesn’t have to think as much about maintaining the favor of private equity partners or national space programs. Still, it remains to be seen, I think, whether Blue Origin is a serious contender or ultimately just Armadillo Aerospace on a much larger scale.

    • PK Sink says:

      The Tortoise is no Armadillo…deeper pockets won out. As for the future? I’m stocked up on chips and beer, and absolutely loving the budding competition between Jeff and Elon. And Buzz Branson is waiting in the wings to add his bit to the unfolding drama. Let the games begin.

  2. PK Sink says:

    “Bezos then went on to channel his inner Musk”

    I just love that line. Keep ’em coming.

  3. PK Sink says:

    “and perhaps where the tortoise beats the hare.”

    Could happen…but that’s one helluva hare that tortoise is chasing. Is this a ton of fun, or what?

Post a Comment