Science & Technology

Private aerospace industry blasts off with help from Amazon

Following the footsteps of Elon Musk and SpaceX, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is starting his own reusable rocket-launch system, the New Shepard. The newly founded aerospace industry established in 2000, Blue Origin, LLC, is a private aerospace industry under Bezos. It develops technologies to enable private human access into space with future plans to dramatically lower costs and increase reliability.

Blue Origin’s motto, “Gradatim Ferociter,” is Latin for “step by step, ferociously.” Bezos is taking step by step methods in aerospace technology for future space travel and possibly space tourism.

The name, New Shepard, is based off the first American in space, Alan Shepard. Testing for this capsule shuttle began in early 2015 near the western deserts of Texas. On nearly every one of the test flights since 2015, the vehicle has never had a human passenger, but has flown more than 60 miles into space and achieved a top speed of almost 2,200 miles per hour.

New Shepard is not only a reusable rocket,  it carries a space capsule large enough to be equipped with a dummy and has equipment to conduct a variety of scientific experiments. The spacecraft successfully launched to the edge of space on its eighth trial run on April 29, 2018. The altitude peak of the spacecraft was 66 miles, which Bezos commented on Twitter as “the altitude we have been targeting for operations!”

Although the launch was successful, there were some issues the morning of the launch and numerous delays due to thunderstorms. The launch was delayed by several hours in the western Texas desert just until after 12 p.m. CDT. The crew capsule had only one passenger on board, a mannequin dummy called “Mannequin Skywalker,” a play on the name of the famous Star Wars character “Anakin Skywalker.”

After the success of the launch, Bezos was asked what the goals are for the private aerospace industry and its relationship to Amazon. The private aerospace industry is also a commercial space company and after testing its system, its goal is to launch paying passengers on suborbital flights for something Bezos terms “space tourism” in the upcoming months.

The spacecraft reached an altitude of approximately 350,000 feet from the ground, a total of 5 percent higher than the previous New Shepard trial launches. This sent the reusable rocket beyond the internationally accepted boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and space, also known as the Kármán line.

However, Bezos is not completely satisfied with the test results just yet. The goal, he says, is to “push the system just a little bit harder and a bit higher.” The blastoff was delayed three and a half hours from its initial release time, but the liftoff finally came at 12:06 p.m. CDT in western Texas.

The “Blue” in “Blue Origin” is Bezos’ reference to Earth, the blue planet. The second part of the name refers to how his commercial shuttle company does not aim for space exploration but a commercialized service for paying passengers to view space beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. Since reuse of the capsule and rocket booster is possible, passenger-carrying spaceflight is expected to begin in late 2018, according to Blue Origin’s rocket engine BE-4 qualification tests proposed by NASA.

Blue Origin’s future plans for its commercial rockets are slightly different than Musk’s SpaceX goals with Falcon Heavy, since Musk’s rockets are launching commercial satellites and cargo to the International Space Station while Blue Origin’s New Shepard is designed to launch human passengers to visit space by the end of this year.

May 7, 2018

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Sharon Lu


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