Blue Origin’s New Shepard Makes Inaugural Flight

Image Credit : Blue Origin

After a four year hiatus, Blue Origin to the skies in West Texas yesterday, and it may well have been worth the wait.

Here is the announcement from Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos on the company website.

Apr 29, 2015

First Developmental Test Flight of New Shepard

Today we flew the first developmental test flight of our New Shepard space vehicle. Our 110,000-lbf thrust liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen BE-3 engine worked flawlessly, powering New Shepard through Mach 3 to its planned test altitude of 307,000 feet. Guidance, navigation and control was nominal throughout max Q and all of ascent. The in-space separation of the crew capsule from the propulsion module was perfect. Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return.

In fact, if New Shepard had been a traditional expendable vehicle, this would have been a flawless first test flight. Of course one of our goals is reusability, and unfortunately we didn’t get to recover the propulsion module because we lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent. Fortunately, we’ve already been in work for some time on an improved hydraulic system. Also, assembly of propulsion module serial numbers 2 and 3 is already underway – we’ll be ready to fly again soon.

We continue to be big fans of the vertical takeoff, vertical landing architecture. We chose VTVL because it’s scalable to very large size. We’re already designing New Shepard’s sibling, her Very Big Brother – 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.

We’ve posted images and videos for your enjoyment. Can’t wait to fly again – Gradatim Ferociter!

Jeff Bezos

Note: Congratulations to Blue Origin, both on the flight and on the apparent attempt to recover the first stage. Also interesting is the endorsement of Vertical Takeoff / Vertical Land scalability, and the reference to a future BE-4 powered booster, Very Big Brother, with the name in caps as if to suggest a formal title. While we tend to think of SpaceX the natural adversary for Blue Origin, an idea reinforced by the Bezos v. Musk narrative and the dustup over  KSC’s 39A launcpad, it is in fact Virgin Galactic and XCOR, both in the suborbital tourism business Blue is seeking to enter, which are the immediate competitors.

Finally, even though the immediate focus is sub-orbital space, Bezos’ statement leaves no doubt that orbital space is what is really on his mind.  In that light, it is more than a little ironic that the New Shepard flight occurred on the day before Congress is set to mark up a NASA funding bill designed to shovel the maximum amount of resources towards SLS and Orion, with some of the offset coming from the agency’s space technology account.

Here is an excerpt from Marcia Smith’s spacepolicyonline writeup earlier this week:

“Space technology is another area that would suffer compared to the President’s request. It is currently funded at $596 million. The President’s request for FY2016 is $725 million. Under the bill’s aspirational scenario, it would receive $596 million – its current level – for FY2016. Compared to the request, that is a cut of about 18 percent. Under the constrained scenario, space technology would receive $500 million, approximately 16 percent less than today and about 31 percent less than the President’s request.”

The disparity between Old and New space is growing, and the difference is as clear as the skies over Texas yesterday.



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