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Space Transportation

Blue Origin "New Shepherd" Makes It To Space... and Back Again (arstechnica.com) 121

Geoffrey.landis writes: Blue Origin's "New Shepherd" suborbital vehicle made its first flight into space (defined as 100 km altitude)... and successfully landed both the capsule (by parachute) and the booster rocket (vertical landing under rocket power). This is the first time that a vehicle has made it into space and had all components fully recovered for reuse since the NASA flights of the X-15 in the 1960s. Check out the videos at various places on the web.
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Blue Origin "New Shepherd" Makes It To Space... and Back Again

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  • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2015 @11:32AM (#50994195) Homepage

    Flights that just pop up to the Karman line and back down are virtually nothing like flights that actually go to orbit. Even the X-15, which actually reached a quarter of orbital velocity, was far more like an orbital flight than a straight up/down jaunt.

    The Karman line is only 1/3rd to 1/4 of the way to proper orbital altitude. And the energy required to achieve orbital altitude is only a tiny fraction of that required to reach orbital velocity. And the rocket equation means that the faster you want to go, the exponentially more mass it takes. These little up-down jaunts do nothing except to confuse the general public into thinking that they're doing something similar to orbital spaceflight.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 24, 2015 @11:42AM (#50994295)

      I disagree. The point (and it was clear even in the summary) is that the rocket landed back down. THAT's what was being tested. Granted, they didn't have to take as much propellant with them, but that isn't as big a deal when they were testing the ability to LAND from space.

      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2015 @11:49AM (#50994359) Homepage

        Again: "from space" is not the same thing, or even close, to "from orbit". It's not the height that causes problems, it's the velocity. And more importantly than that, it's the extreme mass limitations that reaching that velocity imposes on your craft. With suborbital flight you can dedicate all the mass in the world to making the task as easy on yourself as possible.

        • by D.McG. ( 3986101 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2015 @01:14PM (#50995171)
          To reinforce the point of comparing a hummingbird to a raptor, Blue Origin's New Shepherd suborbital vehicle did not substantially travel laterally before landing. They had a near zero lateral velocity (winds in the upper atmosphere do not count) and came back to land at the launch site. The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage however is traveling laterally at Mach 10 upon separation, and attempts to land 200 miles down range. Falcon 9 is also 3 times taller than New Shepherd. Not a fair comparison at all.
      • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2015 @12:01PM (#50994469) Homepage

        To put it another way: the Falcon 9 first stage has a loaded mass of 418 tonnes and an empty mass of 23 tonnes, or a ratio of 18,2 to 1. New Shepard has a loaded mass of 75 tonnes and an empty mass of 20,5 tonnes, or a ratio of 3,66 to 1. Noticing a bit of difference here? New Shepard has, proportionally, 5 times more mass to throw around toward making their landing easy. How easily do you think they could cut their spacecraft to 20% of its current weight and still land? And on top of that, they face far lower wind loadings and heat loadings to boot and have far less crossrange to deal with, making it that much easier on them.

        Suborbital spaceflight is the special olympics of spaceflight.

        • I agree that it's a lot simpler than actually going to orbit. But given that they are the first to actually manage a fully reusable rocket going to sub orbital space ( a feat that not even government space programs have achieved) and landing back on it's launchpad you might consider cutting them some slack or even taking your head out of your arse!
          • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2015 @12:34PM (#50994785) Homepage

            a feat that not even government space programs have achieved

            Because they haven't seen fit to waste any money on it because it's such a meaningless endeavour. There's so little money in it, except for tourism, which government space programs (possibly excepting the Russians) have no interest in.

            As a general rule, when governments shoot something up, they want it to stay up.

            • by khallow ( 566160 )

              Because they haven't seen fit to waste any money on it because it's such a meaningless endeavour. There's so little money in it, except for tourism, which government space programs (possibly excepting the Russians) have no interest in.

              I've been told on occasion (by posters that warble on about the virtues of "blue sky" research) that's precisely why government space programs should be wasting money on this crap. Because nobody else will!

              • Except other people *are* spending money on the much more challenging task of creating actual, useful, orbital launch vehicles. Developing reusable suborbital launch vehicles while reusable orbital launch vehicles are under development isn't "blue sky research", it's attempted short-term commercialization of the "space"-tourist market.

                Not to downplay Blue Origins accomplishments, I applauded when it landed successfully, but SpaceX has already done lots of successful test launches/landings of smaller protot

            • by slew ( 2918 )

              As a general rule, when governments shoot something up, they want it to stay up.

              "Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.

              • by jaa101 ( 627731 )

                "Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
                That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.

                Got to love Tom Lehrer. These lyrics are now 50 years old and predate Apollo 11. The last line seems prophetic now:

                "in German oder English I know how to count down,
                Und I'm learning Chinese," says Wernher von Braun.

            • Hand your geek pass in on the way out because you're sucking the joy out of space exploration! Somebody achieves something nobody has achieved before (Rutan did it with a plane not a rocket) and all slashdot can manage is to be pithy
          • first to actually manage a fully reusable rocket

            Well, them and spaceship one a decade ago (I was there).

            • first to actually manage a fully reusable rocket

              Well, them and spaceship one a decade ago (I was there).

              If you are thinking about the Shuttle, the only thing 'resusable' on that thing was the nameplate and some of the switches in the cabin.

      • The point (and it was clear even in the summary) is that the rocket landed back down.

        That, and they used a LH/LOX engine.

      • Granted, they didn't have to take as much propellant with them, but that isn't as big a deal when they were testing the ability to LAND from space

        It's a huge deal. There are no meaningful qualifiers you can make if you're comparing orbital and suborbital launches.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Unlike the many stories about students sending high altitude balloons to "space", this story uses the term correctly. There is no claim of entering an orbit. You can go to space without going to orbit. The distinction is useful and, for once, was made correctly.

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        But the public confuses space and orbit. To them they're synonymous. It is not technically incorrect to call it "reaching space", but it's also not wrong to point out that "reaching space" and "reaching orbit" are not even in the same ballpark.

        Anyway, the oxidizer is HTP, so we can look forward to this company going bust shortly after they suffer from a catastrophic tank explosion - hopefully while nobody is around. Seriously, why did every other little suborbital rocket startup in the 1990s and 2000s sudd

    • by MrTester ( 860336 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2015 @11:56AM (#50994417)
      Yeeeessss....
      They clearly should have spent 5 times the money to get further into space even though that would in no way help the validity of their test of recovery systems.

      Why? Because that money would have helped shut up people who completely miss the point.
      It would have been well worth it.
      • The question is - did they succeed in landing a rocket that could, in principle, make it to orbit? SpaceX has after all successfully landed the Grasshopper loads of times. And someone above pointed out that this rocket has a fueled:empty weight ratio of ~3, compared to the ~18 ratio of the Falcon, so the answer is no, this rocket is not yet a meaningful contender in the race.

        That's not to downplay their accomplishments though - they are exploring a different and potentially more rewarding rocketry technolo

        • Correction - my second paragraph was was referencing Rei, who claimed they were using an HTP propellant - turns out that was only early development, they're now using a liquid hydrogen/oxygen bipropellant. Nothing much to see there.

    • BTW, the "Karmen Line" is as made-up as any other of these arbitrary distinctions. They got the 100 KM first, then came up with a reason that it was relevant, not the other way around.

            The US Air Force definition of "space" is 50 miles - also just made up, but at least they aren't claiming otherwise.

      • Well, not completely made up. It's pretty much the (fuzzy) line where the atmosphere gets thin enough that it's possible to orbit, even if your orbit will decay fairly rapidly. Still somewhat arbitrary (as the nice round numbers evidence), but it's not like there's any clear line out there closer than the Hills Sphere. And even that is pretty fuzzy.

        • by jbengt ( 874751 )
          More precisely, it's pretty much the fuzzy line where getting enough lift from wings to keep aloft requires you to move at orbital velocity, anyway, so you might as well get rid of the wings.
          • Perhaps as a gross simplification - get rid of the aerodynamics and your orbit degrades that much more rapidly. You cant really sustain an orbit at that altitude without continuous thrust, and if you're providing that then wings will potentially get you more bang for your buck.

            There's actually some interesting ideas such as those of the Airship to Orbit folks on how to harness aerodynamics at orbital velocities to greatly reduce the cost to orbit.

    • The hard part here is NOT slowing down. Basically slowing down from 4 km or 100 km is simply a matter of more fuel. The hard part is:
      1) landing under power.
      2) landing under power on a set spot.
      3) landing under power on a spot that is pitching, rolling, and yawing.

      Blue Origin should be congratulated for doing the first. Of course, SpaceX not only did the first, but also the second. SpaceX has NOT managed to do #3.
      BUT, in the end, BO will be flying regular commercial runs with stage reuse next year.
      • I was with you right up until that last sentence. BO has a *long* way to go before their capable of orbital launches, and there's not really any commercial application for sub-orbital launches. The only market is the still-hypothetical suborbital tourism market.

        Unless I've missed something they've yet to demonstrate a second stage, nor a first stage powerful enough to launch one if they had it (getting to altitude has only ~5-10% of the total energy requirements of reaching orbit)

        • by Anonymous Coward

          That sub orbital tourism IS the commercial run. BO has said that they expect to be finished with testing by end of next year and taking ppl up. NASA has also said that they will pick up flights on it, but they want experiments and astronaut training/vetting. Far cheaper to put somebody on this prior to doing the whole 99 yards of astronaut training and then they quit.

          • Okay, fair point. Maybe if they can make it cheap and reliable enough it can put the Vomit Comet out of business. I'll wait until I see the evidence though before I credit them with regular commercial runs.

            1) For now they are almost certainly far more dangerous than most recreational activities, limiting their potential customers to those wiling to accept the risks of relatively untested technology.
            2) Unless/until they see extensive reuse it's still going to be very expensive, severely limiting their pote

        • Unless I've missed something they've yet to demonstrate a second stage

          Realistically, if orbit is their goal, then the stage they landed today could easily serve as a Second Stage atop a full-grown First Stage.

          • Point.

            In fact, now that I look at it Wikipedia says their plan is for a liquid methane first stage, with a liquid hydrogen second stage - and this launch was using liquid-hydrogen, so you may be on to something.

            I suppose there is something to be said for developing the smaller, cheaper stage first. Especially if they can commercialize it as an over the top carnival ride to help fund the first stage development.

    • Flights that just pop up to the Karman line and back down are virtually nothing like flights that actually go to orbit.

      To be fair, the first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 doesn't go to orbit either. It does have a very substantial horizontal velocity component, it has to boost back to the launch site, and it does go about twice as fast as the New Shepherd did in this flight, so the SpaceX problem is more challenging, but there's more to the comparison than you might suspect initially. Consider: the New Shepherd could absolutely serve as a reusable first stage of an orbital vehicle, albeit with a much smaller payload than the

      • The Falcon 1 reached orbit with 1/9 the engines of the Falcon 9, and isn't useful as a first stage because the weight changes so much when you have more stages/cargo/engines. So New Shepherd being considerably less powerful than Falcon 1 could never be a first stage. Maybe it could be a second stage.

        • I don't understand what you mean. The Falcon 1 did have a useful first stage.

          There's no inherent size limit to what can be orbital and what can't. The Falcon 9 can put up a pretty hefty payload to orbit. The New Shepherd isn't nearly as powerful, but if the capsule was replaced with a small second stage and a smaller payload, there's likely a configuration available that could get something orbital.

          Consider the cubesat launch platform that's basically just a big-ass missile hanging off a fighter jet. [space.com] The Ne

    • SpaceShip One touched space and all elements were recovered and flew to space again.

      BO's demonstration is more publicity than practical rocketry. It doesn't look like the aerodynamic elements of BO's current rocket are suitable for recovery after orbital injection, just after a straight up-down space tourism flight with no potential for orbit, just like SpaceShip One (and Two). They can't put an object in space and have it stay in orbit. They can just take dudes up for a short and expensive view and a littl

  • by Pseudonymous Powers ( 4097097 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2015 @11:51AM (#50994371)

    Billy (age 5): Look, Mommy, I writed a symphony!

    Mom: Wrote, not writed, idiot. Let me see that. Harumph! This is barely a sonata. And no one writes for harpsichord anymore!

    Billy: I wrote it for you! It's pretty, like you are!

    Mom: Pandering, now? Disgusting. And I guess I would have been impressed, if Mozart hadn't beat you to it, by, oh, like, two hundred years!

    • by tibit ( 1762298 )

      You do musical analogies pretty damn well. Thank you!

    • The backlash here is because the article's author claims "Jeff Bezos finally one-upped Elon Musk in space."

      That's completely inaccurate. Jeff Bezos' sub-orbital landing is the commercial jingle to Elon Musk's five-movement symphony of orbital re-entry and landing. Anybody who is saying this feat is more impressive is just ignorant.

      To be more technically correct, the author could have claimed that Bezos one-upped Scaled Composites and Spaceship One, which made sub-orbital spaceflights several years ago to cl

  • Space Ship One? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    "This is the first time that a vehicle has made it into space and had all components fully recovered for reuse..."

    • Oops, good point, that should have been mentioned indeed. In my defense, I'll say that this was a quote I pulled from the Geekwire article (which has since, to their credit, been revised) http://www.geekwire.com/2015/w... [geekwire.com]
      SpaceShipOne re-used everything except the actual rocket engine (that is, the combustion chamber and ablative nozzle) which was replaced for each flight (much like a model rocket, now that I think of it).

      • Re:Space Ship One? (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2015 @01:12PM (#50995153) Homepage

        Their design was kind of problematic. People naturally gravitate towards polybutadiene because of its use as a binder in solid rockets. But hybrids are not solids. Hybrids are great in most regards except for generally pathetic burn rates. Rather than consider other fuels, SS1 just used a typical solid rocket binder. One can compensate for the low burn rate, of course - usually by trying to increase the area by making many, smaller channels - this they did. But the more your propellant looks like swiss cheese, the more likely you are to have chunks break off as the rocket burns down. Which is exactly what happened on one flight, they had such a loud bang during the strike that the pilot thought his engine had exploded.

        The proper solution is pointed to by research. Rather than polybutadiene the propellant should be something like paraffin or polyethylene. They melt at lower temperatures and become very fluid. The combustion basically whips up a "spray" off of the surface, making for very rapid combustion. With rapid combustion you don't have to "swiss cheeseify" your propellant. The polyethylene and the high melting point paraffins also are very strong and stable at room temperature.

    • Details are for engineers and losers.
  • The real difference is that in order to get a payload into orbit you need enough thrust to move the fuel required to get you there. This means powerful engines. This rocket had a small engine that is capable of hovering. On an orbital class rocket your engine will have too much thrust making it impossible to hover. That is what SpaceX is trying to do. Land using a thrust to weight greater than one. This is much more difficult than a hovering landing which SpaceX has already done multiple times, along with o

    • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

      On an orbital class rocket your engine will have too much thrust making it impossible to hover. That is what SpaceX is trying to do. Land using a thrust to weight greater than one.

      Speaking from a position of complete ignorance here -- is there no way to reduce the thrust of the rocket to the preferred rate?

  • "Wang! Pay attention!"

  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2015 @12:38PM (#50994841) Journal
    Competition is nothing but good for everyone in the long run, and as much as I think Elon Musk and SpaceX have done some pretty cool stuff, this Blue Origin company is showing that they too can do cool stuff and be competitive, and I can't see any way that's a bad thing for anyone. So how about you whiners and complainers stop whining and complaining and just enjoy that they did something that was a success?
    • I agree they're doing cool stuff, and it may pay off in the long term, but "Be competitive" in what sense? For now at least they're playing a completely different game. Comparing sub-orbital rocketry to successful orbital launches is like comparing potato guns to military artillery.

    • Except they're not at all competitive. It would be like a bicycle company saying their bicycle just one-upped the Tesla Model 3 in range and price. Technically true, but what people want is a car not a bicycle and improved electric bicycles won't offer much competition to a mass produced electric car. That's not to say both aren't cool in their own way but the only real company that is seeing competition from Blue Origin at the moment is Virgin Galactic and the SpaceShipTwo. However Virgin Galactic an

  • Great stuff, nice hobby.

    I'm sorry, but I still maintain that Jeff Bezos' rocketry hobby is just that, the inconsequential hobby of a very rich man that will never really contribute much at all to the space "industry" other than having what essentially is a very expense drone for a guy that likes expensive toys.

  • by macklin01 ( 760841 ) on Tuesday November 24, 2015 @01:04PM (#50995071) Homepage

    This is the first time that a vehicle has made it into space and had all components fully recovered for reuse since the NASA flights of the X-15 in the 1960s

    Weren't both the White Knight and SpaceShipOne fully recovered for reuse? Wasn't that the point of the X-prize (and doing it twice in two weeks)?

    links: SpaceShipOne [wikipedia.org] and X-Prize [wikipedia.org].

    • "According to the three people we asked at our local Starbucks, this is the first time that a vehicle has made it into space and had all components fully recovered for reuse since the NASA flights of the X-15 in the 1960s."

      There. Fixed it to represent a much more likely journalistic scenario.

    • I assume that the author means the only single-stage vehicle? Although that is probably giving him too much credit, since he conflated sub-orbital and orbital flight.

  • Who knew we would already segment into different fanboy camps for commercial space flight.

    In one camp we have the SpaceXers quickly pointing out that New Shepard "only" made it to the Karman line, which really, any mall drone can do. Pshh.

    In the other camp, we have the Blue Origin supporters pointing out that getting a rocket to the edge of space and _landing_ it is a pretty cool feat in and of itself.

    Then there are the Rutans, (rightly) pointing out that SpaceShipOne did this a few years back. So, what's n

  • Blue Origin took about 9 years to recreate a ~50 year old NASA project which took about 10 years.
    Just a few centuries more and they'll be caught up.

  • The dust up and sudden stop of the crew module looked really painful! The last line of the video, "so who wants to go into space?". I do, but not be spam in a can on the return!
  • IMHO, SpaceX is still way ahead having delivered to the ISS and completed landings on land (okay so not the full monty) and is attempting to land on an ocean platform. The last of which when coupled with seaborne launching gives them the more efficient ability to do equatorial launches.

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