|The factual accuracy of parts of this article (those related to article) may be compromised due to out-of-date information. (January 2013)|
|Industry||Aerospace and space tourism|
|Key people||Jeff Bezos|
Blue Origin is a privately funded aerospace company set up by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. The company is developing technologies to enable private human access to space with the goal of dramatically lower cost and increased reliability. It 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.
Initially focused on sub-orbital spaceflight, the company has built and flown a testbed of its New Shepard spacecraft design at their Culberson County, Texas facility. According to company statements, it initially planned on placing the New Shepard in commercial suborbital tourist service in 2010 with flights about once a week. In 2008 the publicized timetable stated that Blue Origin will fly unmanned in 2011, and manned in 2012. As of 2013, the company website makes no statements about the date of its first flights.
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has been interested in space from an early age. A profile published in 2013 described a 1982 Miami Herald interview Bezos gave after he was named valedictorian of his high school class. The 18-year-old 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."
Since the founding of Blue Origin, the company has been notoriously tight-lipped about its plans. Early work, starting somewhat before the official incorporation of the company, involved work on planetary defense studies. The company has never publically announced involvement in that work nor results of the studies. The company was formally incorporated in 2000, but its existence only became public in 2003, when Bezos started 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 is developing a sub-orbital space vehicle that will take off and land vertically and carry three or more astronauts to the edge of space. The spacecraft is 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 hopes to progress to orbital spaceflight. As of January 2005[update], the company's website announced that it hopes to establish an "enduring human presence in space", but the 2007 version talks instead of aiming to "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 until November 15, 2006.
In a 2011 interview, Bezos indicated that he founded the company to help enable "anybody to go into space" and that to do so, he must focus on two objectives: thus, the mission of Blue Origin is to decrease the cost of access to space and increase the safety of human spaceflight.
The company is headquartered on 25 acres (10 ha) of industrial land in Kent, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, where its research and development is located. A basic launch pad is located in Texas at , about 3.9 miles (6.3 km) north of a check-out building.
As of August 2013[update], Blue Origin has submitted a bid for leasing Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, following NASA's decision to lease the unused complex out as part of a bid to reduce annual operation and maintenance costs. The bid is for shared non-exclusive use of the complex such that the launchpad can interface with multiple vehicles, and costs can be shared over the long term. One potential shared user in the Blue Origin notional plan is United Launch Alliance. A competing bid for commercial use of the launch complex has been submitted by SpaceX, which has submitted a bid for exclusive use of the launch complex to support their crewed missions. NASA hopes to make a selection as early as October 2013.
In September 2013—prior to completion of the bid period, and prior to any public announcement by NASA of the results of the process—Blue Origin filed a protest with the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) "over what it says is a plan by NASA to award an exclusive commercial lease to SpaceX for use of mothballed space shuttle launch pad 39A." NASA had planned to complete the bid award and have the pad transferred by October 1, 2013, but the protest "will delay any decision until the GAO reaches a decision, expected by mid-December." SpaceX has said that they are willing to support a multi-user arrangement for pad 39. In December 2013, the GAO denied the protest and sided with NASA, which argued that the solicitation contains no preference on the use of the facility as multi-use or single-use. "The [solicitation] document merely asks bidders to explain their reasons for selecting one approach instead of the other and how they would manage the facility."
Low-altitude Flight Platforms
Blue Origin's first flight test vehicle, called Charon, was powered by four vertically mounted Rolls-Royce Viper Mk. 301 jet engines rather than rockets. The low-altitude vehicle was developed to test autonomous guidance and control technologies, and the processes that the company would use to develop its later rockets. Charon made its only test flight at Moses Lake, Washington on March 5, 2005. It flew to an altitude of 316 feet (96 m) before returning for a controlled landing near the liftoff point.
Charon is currently on display at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.
The next example, named the Goddard (also known as PM1), first flew on November 13, 2006. The flight was successful. However, a second test flight filed for December 2 never launched. According to Federal Aviation Administration records, two further flights were performed by Goddard.
New Shepard Suborbital System
The company is currently building the New Shepard system for suborbital spaceflight. The New Shepard system is composed of two flight vehicles: a Crew Capsule for carrying three or more astronauts, launched by a rocket-powered Propulsion Module. The two vehicles lift off together, and are designed to separate during flight. After separation, the Propulsion Module returns to Earth to autonomously perform a rocket-powered vertical landing. The Crew Capsule follows a separate trajectory, returning under parachutes for a land touchdown. Both vehicles will be recovered and reused. The New Shepard will be controlled entirely by on-board computers. In addition to flying astronauts, it will provide frequent opportunities for researchers to fly experiments into suborbital space.
In an interview with television show host Charlie Rose on November 19, 2007, Bezos reported that the construction of a second test vehicle was in progress and that a third development vehicle would be built after that, before any commercial flights would begin.
A Federal Aviation Administration NOTAM indicated that a flight test was scheduled for August 24, 2011. The August 24, 2011 test flight in west Texas failed when ground personnel lost contact and control of the vehicle. The company recovered remnants of the spacecraft after a ground search. Blue Origin released the results of the cause of the test vehicle failure on September 2. As the vehicle reached a speed of Mach 1.2 and 45,000 feet (14,000 m) altitude, a "flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered [the] range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle."
On October 19, 2012, Blue Origin conducted a successful Pad Escape at its West Texas launch site, firing its pusher escape motor and launching a full-scale suborbital Crew Capsule from a launch vehicle simulator. The Crew Capsule traveled to an altitude of 2,307 feet under active thrust vector control before descending safely by parachute to a soft landing 1,630 feet downrange.
Orbital Space Systems
Blue Origin has also started developing systems for orbital human spacecraft. The reusable first-stage booster will fly a suborbital trajectory, taking off vertically like the booster stage of a conventional multistage rocket. Following stage separation, the upper stage will continue to propel the astronauts to orbit while the first-stage booster will descend to perform a powered vertical landing similar to the New Shepard suborbital Propulsion Module. The first-stage booster would be refueled and launched again, allowing improved reliability and lowering the cost of human access to space.
The booster rocket will loft Blue Origin’s biconic Space Vehicle to orbit, carrying astronauts and supplies. After orbiting the Earth, the Space Vehicle will reenter Earth’s atmosphere to land on land under parachutes, and then be reused on future missions to Earth orbit.
Blue Origin successfully completed a System Requirements Review (SRR) of its orbital Space Vehicle in May 2012.
Engine testing for the Reusable Booster System (RBS) vehicle began in 2012. A full-power test of the thrust chamber for Blue Origin BE-3 liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen rocket engine was conducted at a NASA test facility in October 2012. The chamber successfully achieved full thrust of 100,000 pounds-force (about 440 kN).
- First test flight: 5 March 2005 (Charon)
- Second test flight: 13 November 2006, 06:30 (Goddard)
- Third test flight: 22 March 2007 (Goddard)
- Fourth test flight: 19 April 2007 (Goddard)
- Fifth test flight: 6 May 2011 (New Shepard propulsion module (PM2))
- Sixth test flight: 24 August 2011 (PM2, failure, loss of vehicle)
- Pad escape test flight: 19 October 2012
In January 2013, the engine was originally announced to produce somewhat less thrust: 440 kN (100,000 lbf). Initial thrust chamber tests were planned for mid-February 2013 at NASA Stennis. The thrust chamber tests were run sometime in 2013.
The BE-3 was successfully tested in late 2013 on a full-duration suborbital burn, with simulated coast phases and engine relights, "demonstrating deep throttle, full power, long-duration and reliable restart all in a single-test sequence." NASA has released a video of the test.
The BE-3U engine is a modified BE-3 for use on upper stages of Blue Origin orbital launch vehicles. The engine will include a nozzle better optimized for operation under vacuum conditions as well as a number of other manufacturing differences since it is an expendable engine whereas the BE-3 is designed for reusability.
Pusher escape motor
Blue Origin developed a pusher escape motor for its suborbital Crew Capsule.
In late 2012, they performed a full-scale flight test of the escape system on the full-scale suborbital capsule.
Collaborations with NASA
Though privately funded, Blue Origin has worked with NASA on several development efforts. The company was awarded $3.7 million in funding in 2009 by NASA via a Space Act Agreement under the first Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program for development of concepts and technologies to support future human spaceflight operations. NASA co-funded risk-mitigation activities related to ground testing of (1) an innovative ‘pusher’ escape system, that lowers cost by being reusable and enhances safety by avoiding the jettison event of a traditional ‘tractor’ Launch Escape System, and (2) an innovative composite pressure vessel cabin that both reduces weight and increases safety of astronauts. This was later revealed to be a part of a larger system, designed for a biconic capsule, that would be launched atop an Atlas V rocket. On November 8, 2010, it was announced that Blue Origin had completed all milestones under its CCDev Space Act Agreement.
In April 2011, Blue Origin received a commitment from NASA for US$22 million of funding under the CCDev phase 2 program. Milestones included (1) performing a Mission Concept Review (MCR) and System Requirements Review (SRR) on the orbital Space Vehicle, which utilizes a biconic shape to optimize its launch profile and atmospheric reentry, (2) further maturing the pusher escape system, including ground and flight tests, and (3) accelerating development of its BE-3 LOX/LH2 100,000 lbf engine through full-scale thrust chamber testing.
In 2012, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program released its follow-on CCiCap solicitation for the development of crew delivery to ISS by 2017. Blue Origin did not submit a proposal for CCiCap, but is reportedly continuing work on its development program with private funding.
- McDonnell Douglas DC-X
- Lockheed Martin X-33
- Masten Space Systems
- Armadillo Aerospace
- Interorbital Systems
- Quad (rocket)
- Lunar Lander Challenge
- Reusable Vehicle Testing program by JAXA
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- Official site
- Amazon Enters the Space Race Wired Magazine (July 2003)
- Amazon CEO gives us peek into space plans, a January 2005 article from The Seattle Times
- Amazon.com founder's space venture has West Texas county abuzz (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 12, 2005)
- Blue Origin West Texas Commercial Launch Site Environmental Assessment
- Latest Blue Origin News on the Space Fellowship