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  1. Blue Origin successfully completes its first human launch [Updated] Blue Origin plans to fly two more customer flights in 2021. Enlarge / Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket launches from a remote site in West Texas. Blue Origin 9:45am ET Update: At 8:12 am local time in West Texas, about one hour after sunrise, Blue Origin's New Shepard launch system rocketed into the sky. The mission carried an eclectic mix of passengers—billionaire Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark, famed female aviator Wally Funk, and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen. All four emerged from the capsule, in the west Texas desert, less than 20 minutes later. During the flight they reached an altitude of 107 km, crossing the internationally agreed upon boundary of space. This was Blue Origin's first human spaceflight and follows Virgin Galactic's successful flight of its founder, Sir Richard Branson, nine days ago. We truly have entered into a new era of human spaceflight. Original post: Officials with the rocket company Blue Origin said they remain on track for their first human spaceflight on Tuesday, which will carry founder Jeff Bezos and three other passengers on a suborbital hop 100 km above West Texas. Steve Lanias, the lead flight director for the mission, said during a call with reporters that engineers completed a "Flight Readiness Review" for the launch over the weekend and found the New Shepard rocket and capsule to be in perfect condition. Weather, too, looks reasonable with any early morning storms expected to pass before the anticipated liftoff time of 8 am CT (13:00 UTC). Bezos and the other three passengers—his brother, Mark, aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and a paying customer from the Netherlands named Oliver Daemen—underwent about 14 hours of training this weekend across two days. Their flight will be entirely autonomous. After launch the capsule will separate from the rocket, and the passengers will have about three minutes of weightlessness before they must strap back into their seats for the return to Earth. Upon reentry to Earth's atmosphere the passengers will experience about 5 Gs as gravity exerts itself on the returning vehicle. This particular capsule and rocket has made two flights previously, said Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith. Although Blue Origin has a handful of former astronauts on staff, the company decided to fly its first flight with Bezos, his invited guests, and a customer rather than having the former astronauts test the vehicle. "We didn’t see any value, quite honestly, in doing things stepwise in that approach," Smith said. An unnamed bidder paid $28 million at an auction for a seat on this flight but then backed out due to scheduling conflicts, Blue Origin said. The company then turned to a runner-up during the auction, Dutch hedge fund manager Joes Daemen. He paid an unspecified price for the seat to fly his son, Oliver. Smith said 7,500 people from 150 countries participated in Blue Origin's auction for the New Shepard seat. The company has not disclosed how much it will charge for seats on New Shepard, but Blue Origin seems intent on getting whatever price the market will bear, with seats on early flights expected to cost significantly more than $1 million. "The early flights are going for a good price," Smith said. Blue Origin plans to fly two more customer flights in 2021, and although the company did not say, it is likely to fly about a dozen such missions in 2022 as long as there are no significant technical problems. For Tuesday's flight, the company will provide a webcast, which is expected to begin about 90 minutes before the anticipated liftoff time. So the webcast should go live at 6:30 am local time in Texas, or about 11:30 UTC. My favorite video Blue Origin successfully completes its first human launch [Updated]
  2. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to launch first space tourism passengers on July 20 and auction off a seat KEY POINTS Jeff Bezos’ space venture Blue Origin announced on Wednesday that it will launch its first astronaut crew to space on July 20. The company has yet to open ticket sales or release pricing information about New Shepard flights, but will host a public auction for a seat on the first crewed launch. New Shepard is designed to carrying as many as six people at a time on a ride past the edge of space. A New Shepard rocket launches on a test flight. Blue Origin Jeff Bezos’ space venture Blue Origin will launch its first astronaut crew to space on July 20, flying on its space tourism rocket called New Shepard, the company announced Wednesday. Blue Origin has yet to open ticket sales or release pricing information about New Shepard flights, but will host a public auction for a seat on the first crewed launch. A sealed online auction will run until May 19 and bids can go up to $50,000 – with the company requiring additional identification information and a $10,000 deposit for higher bids. Then, from May 19 onward, Blue Origin will hold a public bidding process – before a final live online auction on June 12. “We’re auctioning off the first seat to benefit our foundation Club for the Future,” a Blue Origin video said. New Shepard is designed to carry as many as six people at a time on a ride past the edge of space, with the capsules on previous test flights reaching an altitude of more than 340,000 feet (or more than 100 kilometers). The capsule has massive windows to give passengers a view, spending a few minutes in zero gravity before returning to Earth. A seat and the view from inside a New Shepard capsule at the edge of space. Blue Origin The company has yet to fly New Shepard with passengers on board. Blue Origin has test flown the rocket and capsule more than a dozen times to date without crew, including a test flight last month at the company’s facility in the Texas desert. Jeff Bezos takes a look at the New Shepard rocket booster on the landing pad after a successful NS-15 flight and landing in April 2021. Blue Origin The rocket launches vertically, with the booster detaching and returning to land at a concrete pad nearby. The capsule’s return is slowed by a set of parachutes, before softly landing in the desert. The New Shepard crew capsule lands in the West Texas desert after the NS-15 mission on April 14, 2021. Blue Origin Blue Origin’s announcement comes on the 60th anniversary of the Mercury-Redstone 3 flight, which carried astronaut Alan Shepard – after whom Blue Origin named its rocket system – on the first U.S. human spaceflight in 1961. Additionally, July 20 will mark the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Source: Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to launch first space tourism passengers on July 20 and auction off a seat
  3. An unleashed Jeff Bezos will seek to shift space venture Blue Origin into hyperdrive SEATTLE (Reuters) - Freed from his daily obligations at Amazon.com Inc, Jeff Bezos is expected to turn up the heat on his space venture, Blue Origin, as it faces a pivotal year and fierce competition from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, industry sources said. FILE PHOTO: Amazon and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos addresses the media about the New Shepard rocket booster and Crew Capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States April 5, 2017. REUTERS/Isaiah J. Downing/File Photo The 57-year-old Bezos, a lifelong space enthusiast and the world’s second-richest person behind Musk, said last week he is stepping down as chief executive of the e-commerce company as he looks to focus on personal projects. Blue Origin has fallen far behind SpaceX on orbital transportation, and lost out to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) on billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. national security launch contracts which begin in 2022. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp. Now, Blue Origin is battling to win a competition with SpaceX and Dynetics to develop a new lunar lander for NASA’s potentially multibillion-dollar push to return humans to the moon in a few years. Dynetics is owned by Leidos Holdings Inc. Winning the lunar lander contract - and executing its development - are seen by Bezos and other executives as vital to Blue Origin establishing itself as a desired partner for NASA, and also putting Blue on the road to turning a profit, the people said. With limited revenue streams, Bezos has been liquidating about $1 billion of Amazon stock annually to fund Blue, which he said in 2018 was “the most important work that I’m doing.” A Blue Origin representative declined to comment, but pointed to comments Bezos made last week when he said he was stepping down as Amazon’s chief executive. He told Amazon employees he would “stay engaged in important Amazon initiatives” but also devote time to Blue Origin and various philanthropic and media “passions.” NASA is expected to winnow the lunar lander contest to just two companies by the end of April, adding pressure as Blue Origin works through problems such as wasting millions of dollars on procurement, and technical and production challenges, the sources said. One of the development struggles Blue has faced is getting the lander light and small enough to fit on a commercially available rocket, two people briefed on the development said. Another source, however, said Blue has modified its design since it was awarded the initial contract last April and that its current design fits on an additional number of available and forthcoming rockets, including Musk’s Falcon Heavy and ULA’s Vulcan. “He is going to kick Blue Origin into a higher gear,” said one senior industry source with knowledge of Blue’s operations. Bezos already has transplanted Amazon’s culture on Blue, down to enforcing similar “leadership principles” and kicking off meetings by reading documents in silence, sources say. But one industry veteran said Bezos needs to take a hands-on, operational role if he is going to fix a number of problems like bureaucratic processes, missed deadlines, high overhead and engineer turnover which, according to this source, have emerged as Blue Origin seeks to transition from development to production across multiple programs. One person familiar with the matter said that Bezos has no desire to immerse himself completely in daily operations, and instead would prioritize major initiatives and new endeavors. In his latest Instagram posts, Bezos is seen climbing into a crew capsule wearing cowboy boots, and sitting in his pickup truck watching a rocket engine test, which he described as a “perfect night!” BEZOS VERSUS MUSK Founded in 2000, Blue Origin, based in Kent, Washington, has expanded to around 3,500 employees, with sprawling manufacturing and launch facilities in Texas, Florida and Alabama. Its ambitious portfolio includes selling suborbital tourist trips to space, heavy-lift launch services for satellites, and the lander - none of which is yet fully commercially viable. Recent data shows Blue has overcome combustion stability problems on its BE-4 rocket engine - another business line, two sources said. Test engines for ULA’s inaugural Vulcan rocket are expected to arrive at Florida’s Cape Canaveral this week, with the first-flight engines and booster coming later this spring, one added. By comparison, Musk’s SpaceX, founded two years after Blue Origin, has launched its Falcon 9 boosters more than 100 times, launched the world’s most powerful operational rocket - Falcon Heavy - three times, and transported astronauts to the International Space Station. SpaceX said on Thursday it had 10,000 users on its nascent satellite-based broadband service, dubbed Starlink, which Musk says will provide crucial funding to develop his Starship rocket for missions to the moon and, eventually, Mars. Blue is also hoping for a steady stream of revenue for its heavy-lift New Glenn rocket - potentially set for a debut late this year - from Amazon’s forthcoming constellation of some 3,200 satellites dubbed Project Kuiper, sources say. Amazon aims to have half the constellation in orbit by 2026, but there is no public timeline for a first launch. Until now, Bezos has devoted one day a week to Blue Origin, with conference room meetings replaced in recent months by video calls, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the sources said. Source: An unleashed Jeff Bezos will seek to shift space venture Blue Origin into hyperdrive
  4. Blue Origin shows off the finished massive nose cone for its future New Glenn rocket Now we just need the rocket to match One half of the New Glenn payload fairing. Image: Blue Origin Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company Blue Origin has completed the first nose cone of its future orbital rocket, the New Glenn — and new video of the hardware shows the true enormity of this piece of equipment. With a diameter of 7 meters, or 22 feet, the cavernous nose cone is so giant that it can completely house Blue Origin’s smaller New Shepard rocket. The nose cone, or payload fairing, is a crucial piece of any rocket heading to space. It sits on top of the vehicle and surrounds whatever payload or satellite the rocket is carrying, acting as a shield during the ascent through the atmosphere. Once in space, the payload breaks away and exposes the satellite so that the payload can be deployed by the rocket. The size of a rocket’s fairing is also key because it dictates which kinds of satellites can fit on top of a rocket. If the fairing is too small, for instance, larger satellites and modules won’t be able to fly. This limiting factor has led to an industry phrase known as the “tyranny of the fairing,” as the nose cone often prohibits the ability to fly massive payloads into orbit. Blue Origin, however, is trying to give customers a little more room on the New Glenn rocket that it’s developing. The company claims the nose cone is the “largest contiguous composite fairing ever built” and that it can house 50 percent more volume than its closest competitor, according to a video showing the completed hardware. In the video, tiny Blue Origin employees walk beside the fairing at the company’s factory in Florida, giving a sense of scale for the giant shield. “We have given customers new opportunity to design satellites in a way they haven’t before,” Jarrett Jones, the senior vice president of Blue Origin’s New Glenn program, said in the video. Once completed, the New Glenn rocket will be massive. The design calls for a rocket with a height of 95 meters, or 313 feet, which would tower over any commercial vehicle available today. Blue Origin claims it will be able to loft up to 45 metric tons, or nearly 100,000 pounds, into low Earth orbit. The company hopes to use New Glenn to launch commercial satellites as well as any hardware NASA might need to get humans back to the Moon. Blue Origin is also eager to have New Glenn launch national security payloads for the US military. Of course, the company needs to finish the rocket first. When announcing the rocket, Bezos claimed it would fly by 2020, but Blue Origin has since revised that date, saying the rocket will be available to start flying payloads in 2021. So far, the fairing and the main engines of New Glenn are the biggest pieces of completed hardware. Now they just need the rest of the rocket in order to start flying. Source: Blue Origin shows off the finished massive nose cone for its future New Glenn rocket (The Verge)
  5. NASA rejects Blue Origin’s offer of a cheaper upper stage for the SLS rocket Each launch of the SLS rocket may cost on the order of $2 billion. Enlarge / A video still showing an Exploration Upper Stage in flight. NASA On Bullshit American crap, NASA posted a document that provides some perspective on the agency's long-term plans for the Space Launch System rocket. This is the agency's titanic booster that has been under development since 2010, has an annual budget of more than $2 billion, and will not fly before at least 2021. The new document, known as a Justification for Other Than Full and Open Competition, explains why NASA rejected a lower-cost version of an upper stage for its rocket. Early on, the space agency opted to build the large SLS rocket in phases. The initial version, Block 1, would have a placeholder upper stage. As a result, this initial variant of the rocket would be somewhat limited in its capabilities and only marginally more powerful than private rockets—most notably SpaceX's Falcon Heavy and Blue Origin's New Glenn boosters—developed without the deep pockets of US taxpayers. The much more capable Block 1b of the SLS rocket will stand apart from these private rockets. With its more powerful second stage, known as the Exploration Upper Stage, it will more than double the lift capacity of these private rockets. Additionally, it will have the capability to launch both large amounts of cargo and the crewed Orion spacecraft at the same time. At the outset of the program, NASA chose Boeing to build both the core stage of the SLS rocket, as well as the Exploration Upper Stage. In recent years, Congress has appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars for the agency and Boeing to design this new upper stage to fit on top of the SLS rocket. The agency has yet to move into development of the upper stage, however. A comparison between the Interium Cryogenic Propulsion Stage and the more powerful Exploration Upper Stage. NASA There are several reasons for this. NASA wants Boeing to finish the SLS rocket's core stage first, as it is already four years late. Moreover, because of Boeing's performance on the core stage and projected costs of the Exploration Upper Stage, the agency was curious if there were other aerospace companies interested in building a powerful upper stage for the SLS rocket. Two years ago this frustration, in part, led NASA to issue a request for industry to provide a "low-cost replacement" for the RL-10 rocket engine that powered the Exploration Upper Stage, as well as perhaps an entirely new stage itself. An agency spokesperson said at the time the request sought to "open up the field of possible responses" and reduce costs of the SLS rocket's proposed upper stage. Since that time, the issue of the Exploration Upper Stage has largely simmered behind the scenes. The new document released on Bullshit American crap, however, provides some clarity for what happened. And instead of opening upper stage bidding into a formal bidding process, NASA decided to stick with Boeing's version of the Exploration Upper Stage. Because this was a non-competitive process, NASA had to justify it with the new document. The bidders In the new paperwork, we learn that Boeing and its long-time competitor, Lockheed Martin, proposed to build the Exploration Upper Stage as designed, with four RL-10 rocket engines manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne. In addition, Blue Origin submitted an "alternate response" to the upper stage design. This design was based upon Blue Origin's BE-3U rocket engine, a modified version of the motor that powers the New Shepard launch system, which will also fly in the upper stage of the company's New Glenn rocket. A single BE-3U engine has more thrust than four RL-10 engines combined. So Blue Origin likely proposed an upper stage powered by a single BE-3U engine. The costs Rocket engine costs are something of a black box, but it is likely that a single BE-3U engine will cost about the same, or less, than a single RL-10 engine. Therefore Blue Origin's upper stage would almost certainly cost significantly less than the Exploration Upper Stage proposed by Boeing. (NASA's justification document redacts the agency's investment to date in the Exploration Upper Stage.) Various sources have suggested wildly different cost estimates for the Exploration Upper Stage. But one thing we know for sure from NASA's 2017 request of industry is that the agency sought to cut costs and must have believed Boeing's price was too high. How high was it? We can make an educated guess. Using the Advanced Missions Cost Model, we can roughly estimate the development cost of an upper stage with a dry mass of 13.1 metric tons at $2.5 billion (we rated the development difficulty factor as "high" rather than "very high"). Based upon this model, the total cost for eight Exploration Upper Stages—which NASA announced in October it was beginning to order—came in at $8.6 billion. Subtracting development costs, then, this gives us a per-unit cost of each Boeing upper stage of $880 million. It is not difficult to see the quandary here for NASA. Even if the agency succeeds in the herculean task of bringing the cost of a single core stage down to $1 billion, flying the Exploration Upper Stage will make each launch of its SLS rocket cost on the order of at least $2 billion. This is not the foundation of a sustainable space program. Indeed, NASA would find itself in the situation of the SLS rocket being too expensive to fly often, and unable to fly it often enough, to eventually make the SLS rocket affordable. Despite this, in NASA's new justification document, the agency rejects Blue Origin's less-costly alternative. Justification NASA sets out three reasons for not opening the competition to Blue Origin. In the document, signed by various agency officials including the acting director for human spaceflight, Ken Bowersox, NASA says Blue Origin's "alternate" stage cannot fly 10 tons of cargo along with the Orion spacecraft. Moreover, NASA says, the total height of the SLS rocket's core stage with Blue Origin's upper stage exceeds the height of the Vertical Assembly Building's door, resulting in "modifications to the VAB building height and substantial cost and schedule delays." Finally, the agency says the BE-3U engine's higher stage thrust would result in an increase to the end-of-life acceleration of the Orion spacecraft and a significant impact to the Orion solar array design. Despite these reasons, perhaps the overriding rationale in the NASA document is that moving away from the Exploration Upper Stage's current design would require time the agency does not have in its rush to reach the lunar surface by 2024. NASA would "incur additional costs and schedule risk due to changes in the design and analysis cycles," the document states. "The alternate solution is a heavier stage with a different length and diameter than EUS. New wind tunnel models, load cycles, and integrated dynamics models would need to be produced and verified." A real competition? The irony in this document is that NASA said it would consider opening up a competition for the SLS rocket's new upper stage in 2017. And then two years later it told a bidder that proposed a commercial, cheaper upper stage that its bid failed because NASA and Boeing had already designed their rocket around Boeing's proposal. This seems like less than a fair competition. Moreover, NASA is already procuring an interim upper stage for the SLS rocket from United Launch Alliance, a company co-owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin. United Launch Alliance has extensive experience with the RL-10 engine and building upper stages. It also has tooling and factory space for this purpose, and it likely would have been cheaper and faster for NASA to contract with ULA. However, this would have meant that Boeing had to share any profits from the upper stage with Lockheed. As a result, NASA has gone with a contractor that significantly under-performed on the SLS core stage, which is years behind schedule, billions of dollars over budget, and yet to prove itself in flight. Now it has bet the future of its deep space exploration program for at least the next decade on the same company. NASA fans can only hope that Boeing builds rockets as well as it does lobbying coalitions. Source: NASA rejects Blue Origin’s offer of a cheaper upper stage for the SLS rocket (Ars Technica)
  6. The Amazon CEO already invests $1 billion a year in the space company. Jeff Bezos believes in Blue Origin so much, he's investing even more money in the space company next year. On Monday, the Amazon CEO said he plans to invest "a little more" than a billion dollars in the company next year, up from his previous investment of $1 billion annually. "I just got the news from the team," he said during the Wired25 conference at the SFJazz Center in San Francisco. Bezos added that he never says no when Blue Origin asks for money. "We are starting to bump up against the absolute true fact that Earth is finite," he said said. "Blue Origin, what we need to do is lower the cost of access to space." Bezos became the world's richest person last October, thanks to the surging value of Amazon, which he founded in 1994 in his garage and stewarded into the world's biggest e-commerce site. He still owns 16 percent of the company. Amazon has upended the way we all shop for goods, and it's now aiming to change how we interact with our devices. The company's Alexa digital voice assistant works with more than 20,000 devices, including the new Echo smart speakers and Amazon's new voice-activated microwave. It's often considered by experts to be one of the smartest smart assistants available. Bezos' ambitions extend beyond Amazon. In addition to Blue Origin, he has moved into media with his purchase of The Washington Post. Last month, Bezos made good on a promise to start giving back more of his enormous wealth, announcing the Day One charitable fund and a $2 billion donation to help with education and fight homelessness. Blue Origin competes with Elon Musk's SpaceX when it comes to space exploration. SpaceX has received more attention, both for its successes and its failures, over the past few years and is further along in developing its business. But Blue Origin technically beat Musk to the punch with the first successful rocket launch and recovery -- on land at its west Texas facility in 2015. At Wired25, Bezos said Blue Origin "is the most important thing I'm working on, but I won't live to see it all rolled out." He added that it's important to take risks and work on things that are different from what everyone else is doing. "You want risk taking, and you want people to have vision that most people don't agree with," he said. "We have never needed to think long term as a species. And we finally do." Bezos also said that he will support the US Defense Department. Earlier this month, cloud computing rival Google pulled out of the bidding for a $10 billion Pentagon contract after employee protests. Google said the project may conflict with its principles for ethical use of AI. "If big tech companies are going to turn their backs on the Department of Defense, we are in big trouble," Bezos said. "This is a great country, and it does need to be defended." He added that despite its problems, the US is "still the best country in the world," and if it were up to him, he'd let anyone come to the country who wants. Source
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