Space news #19: Blue Origin and the new space race
On the 29th of April, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin completed the first test flight of New Shepard. This sub-orbital launch included an unmanned capsule and booster stage. The full version of the vehicle will have two stages and be capable of reaching orbit.
Like Space X, Blue Origin is focused on cutting costs by re-using components that would normally be thrown away. After most of the fuel is spent, the first stage booster can soft land autonomously under its own power. Space X has been trialling the same technique recently with several attempts to land a used booster on a floating platform in the ocean. Also, like Space X, Blue Origin has had some teething issues. New Shepard’s capsule test was successful, but the booster stage failed due to a hydraulic pressure loss during descent.
Blue Origin was founded in 2000 by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. At age 18 a story in the Miami Herald reported that Bezos wanted to build space hotels, amusement parks and colonies for 2 million or 3 million people in orbit. Elon Musk was also fascinated with space, dropping out of his applied science PhD to pursue his interests in renewable energy and space.
The new space race began between Scaled Composites winning the Ansari X Prize for sub-orbital flight and the retirement of the costly US Space Shuttle. While impressive, in my not-so-humble opinion, sub-orbital flight is little more than an extremely exciting roller-coaster ride. The real goal is manned orbital flight, getting humans space and staying there. Governments around the world have recently found renewed interest in reaching space. These programs are rarely capable of operating efficiently and affordably because they are driven by national pride and crippled by politics. The real future of human space flight are dreamers with business experience and pockets full of cash.
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