Fourth Blue Origin Launch Could Foreshadow Civilian Space Travel

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket launched again at 10:36 a.m. this morning over west Texas. The test flight seems to echo last year’s three-hour blockbuster Interstellar, which featured a future in which the earth is no longer habitable and humanity’s survival hinges on space travel.

The New Shepard rockets are reusable, a new development in space travel.

The event was webcasted live to over 15,000 viewers via YouTube. The company is not usually open about its tests, according to Space.

The webcast featured a troubleshooting scenario, enabling the audience to see how an emergency is handled. One of three parachutes was disabled, simulating a scenario where a parachute fails to deploy, and the crew made the rocket’s vertical landing more difficult than in previous tests, like a crash landing. The rocket and its capsule remained intact.

The New Shepard slowed to less than 5 mph just before landing on the launch pad. Before the retro-rocket fired, descent velocity was 23 mph.

The rocket uses a hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine, according to GeekWire. They’re in the process of developing a BE-4 natural gas engine for future launches.

Bezos decided to test the failed parachute scenario since one parachute failed during the Apollo 12 mission, according to TechCrunch. He wore his lucky cowboy boots for the event, bearing the company logo, “Gradatim Ferociter,” Latin for “Step by step, ferociously,” according to Space.

Hot weather delayed the launch by 21 minutes.

Blue Origin was founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, who is also the founder and CEO of Amazon.com. Bezos, a father of four, wants to ensure that the spacecraft is properly tested before any passengers board.

Jeff Bezos, Founder Of Blue Origin Aerospace
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Blue Origin and Amazon.com, appears at a press conference. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000. The company’s headquarters are in Kent, which is south of Seattle. He’s invested more than $500 million into this venture, in addition to his other projects, including a 10,000-year clock. His long-term vision is that eventually much of the earth’s population can commute to space, living and working there, according to Geekwire.

The test launch’s peak altitude was 331,501 feet, barely over the 62-mile boundary where outer space begins. At this altitude, future passengers should expect to experience four minutes of weightlessness, once the rocket and capsule separate before returning to earth. The capsule only requires one parachute for the journey back, but three are provided as a precaution.
The New Shepard is not designed to launch into orbit, just take customers to the outer boundaries of Earth’s atmosphere and then take them back home.

Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin Strategy and Business Development Team and webcast co-host, described the launch as “magic” and an “impeccable test mission,” according to Space.

“You have no idea how badly I want to fly on this right now,” Geoff Huntington, another co-host and Blue Origin engineer, said. “This definitely made my Father’s Day.”

The launch lasted for 11 minutes total.

Blue Origin expects to begin launching test pilots in 2017 and regular passengers in 2018, according to The Verge.

Jeff Bezos
Blue Origin founder, Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos speaks to the crowd. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

No prices are listed for tickets, but Virgin Galactic, Blue Origins’ competitor, is selling tickets for $250,000 per person in a suborbital spaceplane.

In the meantime, the rocket is carrying instrumentation for research for several universities. The first three launches featured a dust collision experiment for Braunschweig University in Germany, a fluid flow experiment for Louisiana State University and William Jewell College, and fluid shape experiment for Purdue University, according to Space.

The current test model has no windows, only painted simulations, but Blue Origin expects to use windows in the next version. Future tests will also involve utilizing the crew capsule’s in-flight abort system to pull astronauts to safety during a launch emergency.

[Photo by NASA/GettyImages]