Space Is A Big Place, With Plenty of Room For Blue Origin
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Some one once said, “Space is a big place. It’s not a zero-sum market.”
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has made much news in recent years. But another aerospace company, Blue Origin, is also worth watching. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has taken an interest in space from an early age. In his high school valedictorian speech, Jeff Bezos said he wanted, “...to build space hotels, amusement parks and colonies for 2 million or 3 million people who would be in orbit. ‘The whole idea is to preserve the earth’ he told the newspaper …. The goal was to be able to evacuate humans. The planet would become a park.“, described in a 1982 Miami Herald interview.
Below, in italics, are excerpt from wikipedia on Blue Origin:
Blue Origin is an American privately funded aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight services company set up by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos with its headquarters in Kent, Washington. The company is developing technologies to enable private human access to space with the goal to dramatically lower costs and increase reliability. Blue Origin is employing an incremental approach from suborbital to orbital flight, with each developmental step building on its prior work. The company motto is Gradatim Ferociter, Latin for Step by Step, Ferociously. Blue Origin is developing a variety of technologies, with a focus on rocket-powered vertical takeoff and vertical landing (VTVL) vehicles for access to suborbital and orbital space. The company’s name refers to the blue planet, Earth, as the point of origin.
Initially focused on sub-orbital spaceflight, the company has built and flown a testbed of its New Shepard spacecraft design at their facility in Culberson County, Texas. The first developmental test flight of the New Shepard, named after the first American in space Alan Shepard, was April 29, 2015. The uncrewed vehicle flew to its planned test altitude of more than 93.5 km (307,000 ft) and achieved a top speed of Mach 3 (3,675 km/h; 2,284 mph). A second flight was performed on November 23, 2015. The vehicle went just beyond 100 km (330,000 ft) altitude reaching space for the first time (according to FAI’s definition), and both the space capsule and its rocket booster successfully achieved a soft landing. On January 22, 2016 Blue Origin re-flew the same New Shepard booster that launched and landed vertically in November 2015, demonstrating reuse. This time, New Shepard reached an apogee of 101.68 km (333,582 ft) before both capsule and booster returned to Earth for recovery and reuse. On April 2 and June 19, 2016, the same New Shepard booster flew for its third and fourth flights, each time exceeding 100 km (330,000 ft) in altitude, before returning for successful soft landings. The first crewed test flights are planned to take place in early 2018, with the start of commercial service shortly after.
Blue Origin moved into the orbital spaceflight technology business in 2014, initially as a rocket engine supplier for others, when they entered into a contractual agreement to build a new large rocket engine, the BE-4, for major US launch system operator United Launch Alliance (ULA). ULA is also considering the BE-3, Blue Origin’s smaller rocket engine used on New Shepard, for use in a new second stage—the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES)—which will become the primary upper stage for ULA’s Vulcan orbital launch vehicle in the 2020s. By 2015, Blue Origin had announced plans to also manufacture and fly its own orbital launch vehicle from the Florida Space Coast.
Blue Origin was founded in 2000 in Kent, Washington, and began developing both rocket propulsion systems and launch vehicles. Since the founding, the company was very secretive about its plans and emerged from its “self-imposed silence” only after 2015.While the company was formally incorporated in 2000, its existence became public only in 2003, when Bezos began buying land in Texas, and interested parties followed up on the purchases. This was a topic of some interest in local politics, and Bezos’ rapid aggregation of lots under a variety of whimsically named shell companies was called a “land grab”.
In January 2005, Bezos told the editor of the Van Horn Advocate that Blue Origin was developing a sub-orbital space vehicle that would take off and land vertically and carry three or more astronauts to the edge of space. The spacecraft would be based on technology like that used for the McDonnell Douglas DC-X and derivative DC-XA. Bezos told Reuters in November 2004 that his company hoped to progress to orbital spaceflight. As of January 2005, the company’s website announced that it hoped to establish an “enduring human presence in space“, but the 2007 version wrote instead of aiming “patiently and step-by-step, to lower the cost of spaceflight so that many people can afford to go and so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system”. Science-fiction author Neal Stephenson worked part-time at Blue Origin into late 2006 and credited Blue Origin employees for ideas and discussions leading to his 2015 novel Seveneves.
As of 2006, Blue Origin had discussed plans to place the New Shepard in commercial suborbital tourist service in 2010 with flights about once per week. By 2008, the publicized timetable indicated that Blue Origin intended to fly unmanned in 2011, and manned in 2012. In the event, the first developmental test flight of the New Shepard occurred on April 29, 2015. The uncrewed vehicle flew to its planned test altitude of more than 93.5 km (307,000 ft) and achieved a top speed of Mach 3 (3,675 km/h; 2,284 mph). Further test flights have and will continue to take place. As of late 2016, Blue Origin projected that if all test flights operate as scheduled, they could begin flying passengers to space on the New Shepard in 2018.
By July 2014, Bezos had invested over US$500 million of his own money into Blue Origin.
In September 2014, the company and United Launch Alliance (ULA) entered into a partnership whereby Blue Origin would produce a large rocket engine—the BE-4—for the Vulcan, the successor to the 10,000–19,000-kilogram-class (22,000–42,000 lb) Atlas V which has launched US national security payloads since the early 2000s, and will exit service in the late 2010s. The 2014 announcement added that Blue Origin had been working on the engine for three years prior to the public announcement, and that the first flight on the new rocket could occur as early as 2019. By April 2017, development and test of the 2,400 kN (550,000 lbf) BE-4 were progressing well and Blue Origin was expected to be selected for the ULA Vulcan rocket.
In April 2015, Blue Origin announced that it had completed acceptance testing of the BE-3 engine that would power the New Shepard space capsule to be used for Blue Origin suborbital flights. Following New Shepard’s maiden flight, Blue Origin began accepting registration for early access to tickets and pricing information for suborbital spaceflights.
In July 2013, the company employed approximately 250 people. By May 2015, they had grown to approximately 400 employees, with 350 of those working on engineering, manufacturing and business operations in the Kent location and approximately 50 in Texas supporting the engine-test and suborbital test-flight facility. By April 2017, the company had more than 1000 employees.
In July 2015, NanoRacks, a provider of services such as payload design and development, safety approvals, and integration, announced a partnership with Blue Origin to provide standardized payload accommodations for experiments flying on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle.
In September 2015, Blue Origin announced details of an unnamed planned orbital launch vehicle, indicating that the first stage would be powered by its BE-4 engine currently under development, while the second stage would be powered by its recently completed BE-3 rocket engine. In addition, Blue Origin announced that it would both manufacture and launch the new rocket from the Florida Space Coast. No payload or gross launch weight was given. Bezos noted in interviews that this new launch vehicle would not compete for US government national security missions, leaving that market to United Launch Alliance and SpaceX.
On November 23, 2015, Blue Origin launched the New Shepard rocket to space to an altitude of 100.53 km (329,839 ft), and vertically landed the rocket booster less than 1.5 metres (5 ft) from the center of the pad. The capsule descended to the ground under parachutes 11 minutes after blasting off and landed safely. This was the first time a booster had flown to space and returned to Earth, marking a major step in the pursuit of a fully reusable rocket. This flight validated the vehicle architecture and design. The ring fin shifted the center of pressure aft to help control reentry and descent; eight large drag brakes deployed and reduced the vehicle’s terminal speed to 623 km/h (387 mph); hydraulically actuated fins steered the vehicle through 192 km/h (119 mph) high-altitude crosswinds to a location precisely aligned with and 1,500 m (5,000 ft) above the landing pad; then the highly throttleable BE-3 engine re-ignited to slow the booster as the landing gear deployed, and the vehicle descended the last 30 m (100 ft) at 7.1 km/h (4.4 mph) to touchdown on the pad. On January 22, 2016, Blue Origin re-flew the same New Shepard booster that launched and landed vertically in November 2015, demonstrating reuse. This time, New Shepard reached an apogee of 101.7 km (333,582 ft) before both capsule and booster returned to Earth for recovery and reuse. On April 2, 2016, the same New Shepard booster again flew, now for a third time, reaching 103.4 km (339,178 ft), before again returning successfully.
In March 2016, Blue Origin invited journalists to see the inside of its Kent, Washington headquarters and manufacturing facility for the first time. The company is planning for substantial growth in 2016 as it builds more crew capsules and propulsion modules for the New Shepard program and ramps up BE-4 engine builds to support full-scale development testing. Employment is expected to grow to 1,000 in 2016 from 600 in February. Bezos also articulated a long-term vision for humans in space, seeing the potential to move much heavy industry completely off-Earth, “leaving our planet zoned strictly for ‘residential and light industrial’ use with an end state hundreds of years out “where millions of people would be living and working in space.” By March 2016, manned test flights were planned to take place by 2017, with possible commercial service in 2018.
Also in March 2016, Bezos discussed his plans to offer space tourism services to space. Pointing out the “entertainment” aspect of the early “barnstormers” in really advancing aviation in the early days when such rides “were a big fraction of airplane flights in those early days,” he sees space tourism playing a similar role: advancing “space travel and rocket launches, through tourism and entertainment.” On the other hand, there are no current plans to pursue the niche market of US military launches; Bezos has said he is unsure where Blue Origin would add any value in that market.
On September 12, 2016, Blue announced that their orbital rocket would be named New Glenn in honor of the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, John Glenn, and that the 7-meter-diameter (23 ft) first stage will be powered by seven Blue Origin BE-4 engines. The first stage is reusable and will land vertically, just like the New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle that preceded it.
At the time of the announcement of New Glenn, Bezos revealed that the next project beyond New Glenn would be New Armstrong, without detailing what that would be.
Blue Origin has continued to expand their Seattle-area office and rocket production facilities in 2016—purchasing an adjacent 11,000 m2 (120,000 sq ft)-building—and 2017, with permits filed to build a new 21,900 m2 (236,000 sq ft) warehouse complex and an additional 9,560 m2 (102,900 sq ft) of office space.
As of 2016, Blue Origin was spending $1 billion USD a year, funded by Jeff Bezos’ sales of Amazon stock.
In March 2017, it was announced that Blue Origin acquired their first paying launch customer for orbital satellite launches. Eutelsat is expected to start launching TV satellites in around 2022 on Blue Origin’s New Glenn orbital launch vehicle. A day after announcing Eutelsat, Blue Origin introduced OneWeb as its second customer.
In September 2017, Blue Origin closed a deal for New Glenn with their first Asian customer, mu Space Corp. The company, based in Thailand, plans to provide satellite-based broadband services and space travel in Asia-Pacific.
On December 12, 2017, Blue Origin launched technology that could treat chest trauma in a space environment aboard New Shepard.
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