Vehicles: New Shepard
Capability: orbital, sub-orbital
First flight: TBC
Blue Origin is another private space company founded by an internet entrepreneur, in this case it’s Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com. While it’s not connected to any space tourism enterprises, Blue Origin’s stated goal is “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”.
The company’s sub-orbital programme is to develop New Shepard, a vertical take-off, vertical-landing vehicle designed to take a small number of astronauts on a sub-orbital journey into space. This would be a two-stage, fully-reusable vehicle, flying the pressurized crew capsule on top of the propulsion module from Blue Origin’s own launch site in Texas.
Blue Origin's second test vehicle in flight
After take-off, the vehicle will accelerate for around 2½ minutes, reaching an altitude of around 75 miles (120km), placing it comfortably above the space boundary and offering up to 3 minutes of zero-G. In space, the crew capsule will separate from the propulsion module, which will land vertically under its own power and guidance. The Crew Capsule will land softly under a parachute at the launch site. New Shepard looks like being a relatively high-intensity flight, with acceleration reaching up to 6g.
Blue Origin has become famous for the scarcity of its progress reports, and has conducted five test flights. From 2006, the first three of these demonstrated Goddard, a cone-shaped vehicle which looks very much like a prototype crew capsule (although it was designated Propulsion Module 1). A much larger Propulsion Module mock-up has flown twice, but the second flight on August 24, 2011, failed after the vehicle reached 45,000ft and Mach 1.2 when a flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered our range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle. The vehicle was lost.
The PM1 test vehicle
The unusual ‘pusher’ escape system for Blue Origin’s crew capsule has also won it NASA funding to develop an escape system and space vehicle to fly atop an Atlas V. Blue Origin is also contracted to further develop a reusable booster which would eventually replace the expendable Atlas V.
Blue Origin's proposed orbital vehicle