When it comes to the private aerospace sector (aka. NewSpace), some names stand out from the rest. The most obvious of these is SpaceX (the brainchild of Elon Musk and the leading source of innovation in commercial space) and the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. But what of Blue Origin, the private aerospace company created by Jeff Bezos in 2000?
In recent years, Blue Origin has fallen behind the competition and missed out on several billion dollars worth of contracts. But with Bezos stepping down as CEO of Amazon, industry sources have indicated that this could change soon (according to Eric M. Johnson at Reuters). With all of the opportunities available for commercial space, Bezos is now in a position to take a more hands-on role as the company faces a most pivotal year.
Space telescopes are a pretty amazing thing. By deploying an observatory to orbit, astronomers are able to take pictures of the Universe unencumbered by atmospheric disturbance. At the same time, they are very expensive to build, maintain, and launch into space. As the case of Hubble’s flawed mirror demonstrated, a space telescope also has to go through rigorous checks because of how difficult it becomes to service them after launch.
To address this, NASA is investigating the possibility of constructing future space telescopes in space. A key aspect of this involves a manufacturing technique known as Atomic Layer Deposition (ALD), a process where layers of material no thicker than an atom is deposited on a surface and then hardened in place. Now, a team of NASA-supported researchers has been given the chance to test ALD in a microgravity environment (i.e. space!)
Indulge your inner man-child (or woman-child) with these LEGO versions of the Blue Origin Blue Moon lunar lander, New Glenn rocket, and launch tower. This new design is currently gathering supporters on the LEGO Ideas website. If it gets enough supporters, LEGO will review it and possibly build it.
Blue Origin is going to the Moon. In an hour-long presentation in Washington DC on May 9th, Jeff Bezos spelled out his plans for reaching the Moon, confirming what many guessed he was hinting at in a tweet from the previous week.
Bezos and his company, Blue Origin, are developing a lunar lander capable of landing a large payload of 6.5 metric tons (14,330 lbs.) on the lunar surface. The lander is being called ‘Blue Moon’ and the target date for its rendezvous with the Moon is 2024.
Today’s breed of billionaire space entrepreneurs likes to keep us guessing, don’t they? Mr. Elon Musk is famous for announcing partial plans on Twitter, then leaving us to cajole the details out of him. Now, Jim Bezos, Amazon founder and Blue Origin visionary, is making us guess what an upcoming mysterious announcement might mean, all on the tails of another successful flight for New Shepard.
Blue Origin, the private aerospace company founded by multi-billionaire (and founder of Amazon) Jeff Bezos, is looking to make its presence felt in the rapidly expanding NewSpace industry. To this end, Blue Origin has spent years developing a fleet of reusable rockets that they hope will someday rival those of their greatest competitor, SpaceX.
So far, these efforts have led to the New Shepard rocket, which can send payloads (and soon, space tourists) to suborbital altitudes. In the coming years, Blue Origin hopes to go farther with their New Glenn rocket, a reusable launch vehicle capable of reaching Low-Earth Orbit (LEO). The company recently released a new video of the New Glenn, which showcased the designs latest features and specifications.
One of the defining characteristics of the modern space age is the way private aerospace companies (aka. NewSpace) is playing a role like never before. With every passing year, more and more small launch providers are being founded. And between the largest companies – SpaceX and Blue Origin – competition is heating up to see who will secure the most lucrative contracts and make it to Mars first!
In order to ensure they remain competitive, Blue Origin indicated that it would be following SpaceX’s lead by recovering its first-stage rocket boosters at sea. To this end, the company has acquired a used Danish vessel known as Stena Freighter, which recently arrived in Florida. Much like SpaceX’s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships (ASDS), this vessel will be used to retrieve spent rockets after they deliver their cargo to space.
At Comic-Con 2015, fans of space opera and science fiction were treated to their first glimpse of The Expanse, the miniseries adaptation of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck’s novels. Needless to say, the reaction was magnificent, and is perhaps best up by IO9’s Lauren Davis, who penned a review of the trailer titled, “The Expanse Is the Show We’ve Been Wanting SinceBattlestar Galactica.
It was therefore a bit of a blow when recently, the Syfy network announced that the third season (which is currently airing) would be the show’s last. Reaction to the news was swift, prompting fans to mount multiple campaigns to have the show picked up by Netflix, Amazon Prime, or another video streaming service. And on Friday, May 25th, Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon and Blue Origin) obliged them.
The announcement was made at the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles Friday night. Bezos was attending the conference to receive the prestigious Gerard K. O’Neill Memorial Award for Space Settlement Advocacy, thanks to his advancement of commercial space exploration through his company, Blue Origin.
The award was conferred by O’Neill’s widow, Tasha O’Neill. In the midst of laying out his company’s vision for the future of space exploration, which included colonies in space, he announced that the science fiction show was being picked up by Amazon Prime, Amazon’s subscription service that offers access to music, videos and other media. As Bezos said, to general applause:
“I was talking to the cast half an hour ago, before the break for dinner started. I was telling them that we are working hard at Amazon to save The Expanse but it wasn’t a done deal yet. During dinner, ten minutes ago, I just got word that The Expanse is saved. The show is extraordinary and these guys are unbelievably talented.”
The news quickly went viral and fan sites dedicated to getting the show renewed quickly responded. In fact, #SaveTheExpanse.com went so far as to declare victory:
“We did it! Thanks to the incredible, historic efforts of the cast, crew and fans of the critically acclaimed sci-fi epic, “The Expanse,” the television show has been resurrected by Amazon Studios and Alcon Entertainment for a fourth season. Just two weeks after being cancelled by Syfy, the massive grassroots effort that followed the news achieved its goal in saving the series, which is now set to appear on Amazon Prime.”
Alcon Entertainment co-founders and co-CEOs Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson were also very happy with the fact that their show had been picked up by Amazon Prime. As they were quoted as saying by Variety Magazine:
“We couldn’t be more excited that ‘The Expanse’ is going to continue on Amazon Prime. We are deeply grateful that Jeff Bezos, Jen Salke, and their team at Amazon have shown such faith in our show. We also want to thank Laura Lancaster, head of Alcon Television for her tireless efforts. We are fully aware that this wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the staggering outpouring of support from the most creative, hardest working sci-fi fans around the world. From reddit campaigns to airplanes, we say thank you. It worked!”
Bezos also took the opportunity to honor Gerard K. O’Neill, a physicist and well-known proponent of space colonization. Among the many ideas he proposed for creating settlements in space, the most-well known is arguably the concept of the O’Neill Cylinder (aka. O’Neill Colony). This would consist of two counter-rotating cylinders in space that would rotate to provide artificial gravity.
Bezos also acknowledged a debt to O’Neill seminal work, The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space. “Professor O’Neill was very formative for me,” he said. “I read ‘The High Frontier’ in high school. I read it multiple times. And I was already primed. And as soon as I read it, it made sense to me. It seemed very clear that planetary surfaces were not the right place for an expanding civilization inside the solar system.”
On the subject of O’Neill Cylinders, Bezos indicated that they are a good means for creating accessible space habitats. “For one, they’re not that big,” he explained. “There’s another argument I always make too, [which] is, they’re hard to get to. [If] we build our own colonies, we can do them in near-Earth vicinity, because people will want to come back to Earth. Very few people – for a long time, anyway – are going to want to abandon Earth altogether.”
It seems rather fitting that an entrepreneur who is dedicated to making science fiction a reality has chosen to renew a science fiction show. Clearly, Bezos is a fan, or perhaps he knows that fans of shows like The Expanse are also fans of his commercial space efforts. In either case, fans of the series are happy to know that there will be more seasons to come!
One of the greatest challenges of modern spaceflight is finding a way to make launching rockets into space commercially viable. Reduced costs will not only mean more launches, but the ability to conduct more ambitious programs in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and beyond. To this end, many private aerospace companies are investing in reusability, where the first-stages of a rocket and even entire vehicles are retrieved after launch and reused.
In recent years, Elon Musk has become famous for his development of reusable first-stage boosters and fairings. But Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos has also been no slouch when it comes to making the company’s fleet of rockets reusable. On Sunday, April 29th, the company is passing another milestone with the 8th test flight of the New Shephard rocket, an event which is being live-streamed.
As a fully reusable vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) space vehicle, the New Shephard is crucial to Blue Origins’ vision of commercial spaceflight and space tourism. Consisting of a pressurized capsule aboard a booster, the combined vehicle launches vertically and accelerates for two and a half minutes before the engine cuts off. The capsule then separates and floats into suborbit while the booster returns to Earth under its own power and with the help of parachutes.
Launch preparations are underway for New Shepard’s 8th test flight, as we continue our progress toward human spaceflight. Currently targeting Sunday 4/29 with launch window opening up at 830am CDT. Livestream info to come. @BlueOrigin#GradatimFerociterpic.twitter.com/zAYpAGWB8C
Named in honor of famed astronaut Alan Shepard, the rocket’s crew capsule has room for six people. These will consist of customers looking to take a flight to suborbital altitudes and experience the sensation of weightlessness. As they state on their website:
“The New Shepard capsule’s interior is an ample 530 cubic feet – offering over 10 times the room Alan Shepard had on his Mercury flight. It seats six astronauts and is large enough for you to float freely and turn weightless somersaults.”
The announcement for the 8th test launch came on Friday, April. 27th, when Bezos tweeted that “launch preparations are underway for New Shepard’s 8th test flight, as we continue our progress toward human spaceflight. Currently targeting Sunday 4/29 with launch window opening up at 830am CDT.” The launch would take place at the company’s suborbital launch and engine test site near the town of Van Horn in West Texas.
As with the previous New Shepard test launch, which took place on Dec. 12th, 2017, the crew for this mission would be the mannequin known as “Mannequin Skywalker” (check out the video of this flight below). As with the previous uncrewed flight, Mannequin Skywalker will be testing the capsule’s safety restrains in advance of a crewed test flight.
At 0526 (0826 PST), Bezos tweeted that the flight window – which was originally set for 0845 CDT (0630 PDT) – had been delayed due to thunderstorm over West Texas. At 0950 CDT (0750 PDT), Bezos issued a follow-up tweet that the liftoff target was now 1113 CDT (0913 PST). Live streaming will begin 15 minutes before the launch, which you can watch by going to Blue Origin’s website.
If successful, this launch test will place Blue Origin one step closer to conducting space tourism. As Bob Smith, the CEO of Blue Origin, recently indicated in an interview with CNBC, he hopes the company will begin these launches by the end of this year. In addition, he said that the company continues to pursue the development of engine technology, which it hopes United Launch Alliance will use on its Vulcan rockets as well.
Be sure to check out the live-steam of the launch, and feel free to enjoy this video of the New Shepard conducting a space tourism flight while you’re waiting: