Technology

Amazon's Jeff Bezos Has Liftoff!

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Blue Origin, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos's space tourism company, has successfully launched for the first time. Bezos has been playing close to the vest, so this is some of the first real information about his project: "Our first objective is developing New Shepard, a vertical take-off, vertical-landing vehicle designed to take a small number of astronauts on a sub-orbital journey into space. On the morning of November 13, 2006, we launched and landed Goddard – a first development vehicle in the New Shepard program. The launch was both useful and fun." Blue Origin has just released pictures and video here .

Bezos also says, "My only job at the launch was to open the champagne, and I broke the cork off in the bottle. : ) Fortunately, our other valve operations went more smoothly."

Be sure to check out my article "Space Travel for Fun and Profit" in the January print edition for more about the near-future of private space travel.

(Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is a supporter of reason and one of our 35 Heroes of Freedom. He is also a badass, donations or not.)

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  1. Two more good reasons to buy from Amazon.

  2. If that thing were covered in tinfoil, it would look like a tinfoil hat. Or a giant Hershey Kiss.

  3. NO WAY, No flipping way. That has got to be some kind of joke. Do you have any idea how inefficient that sort of vertical landing is? I bet they used all the fuel they could hold just for that short flight (assuming it isn’t some sort of hoax).

    Color me gobsmacked.

  4. It’s not that inefficient if it’s done mostly with parachutes.

  5. 285 ft. max altitude? Yes, that would qualify as sub-orbital.

  6. I have to assume that the thing will be hoisted on a much larger rocket… If so, what’s the big deal? That tech’s been around a very long time…. If not then I want to know what propulsion system and fuel they are using and invest in that…..

  7. …Au contarire, my friends. McDonnell-Douglas (now part of Boeing) did the same thing and more with the DC-X more than ten yars ago:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X

    Bezos and his people have reinvented the DC-X -the Goddard is a small scale, proof-of-concept version of the New Shepard, (http://www.astronautix.com/craft/newepard.htm )and it’s not intended to do anything more than get a few hundred feet up.

    Mike

  8. NO WAY, No flipping way. That has got to be some kind of joke. Do you have any idea how inefficient that sort of vertical landing is? I bet they used all the fuel they could hold just for that short flight (assuming it isn’t some sort of hoax).

    Actually, no. For a rocket designed to go into space, it is about as weight efficient as horizontal landing with wings, while avoiding all the hellish issues of carrying wings around and having different orientations on take-off and landing.

    An orbital vehicle will have a fuel-to-vehicle mass ratio of around 20. When worrying about whether the vehicle can land vertically, consider that the tanks are almost empty. It clearly has the engine power to land: Its engines already launched 20 times its landing mass! The bigger issue is actually whether the engines can be throttled down far enough.

  9. A little odd that this appears on a libertarian site, considering that Bezo’s attempts at space tourism would not be possible without the billions of dollars worth of knowledge discovered by NASA over the decades (ie stolen from taxpayers).

  10. MikeP,
    Stop, you’re embarrassing yourself. The engines used for landing are not the ones used for takeoff. Empty tanks are jettisoned. Retrorockets are nowhere near as weight efficient as wings. Wings and reorientation are minor nuisances.

    Clearly, as PJ says this is meant to be used in conjunction with parachutes. And as others note, it’s nothing new. It’s the same scheme (hopefully much improved) the soviets used to land their capsules.

  11. Rename it the New Shepherd Book, then you can enlist all of the Firefly fanatics.

  12. If the future isn’t going to give me flying cars, then goddamnit, I want a VTOL rocket.

  13. You know, the quality of our trolls is definitely heading south. Libby may be the weakest yet.

    Tell me, fellow libertards, your nomination for weakest HnR troll.

  14. Warren,

    That was yesterday. This is today. Things that have been learned in the meantime include:

    1. Big is not bad. Cost scales with complexity, not with size.
    2. Dense is bad. Keeping your empty tankage means less heat load during reentry.

    If you keep the big, fluffy giant empty ship instead of separating it from the little, dense human habitat on top, you effectively are a parachute. And it takes little from your engines or your remaining fuel to shed the last couple hundred meters per second of orbital speed to land.

    Did you even look at the link Mike Kozlowski included? Or how about one on Blue Origin itself? If you follow the MSNBC link from there, you’ll see that it does have the ability to separate the capsule for parachute landing. But it plans for the ability to land the whole thing as launched.

    Yes, if you want to invent yet another towering artillery rocket that throws its warhead into orbit using many stages only to be brought down with parachutes, you are correct. Presumably Bezos wants to do something a little bit better. Reusable single-stage to orbit is the holy grail in this business, and many smart people believe it should be possible with a well thought out design.

  15. To be more particular…

    The engines used for landing are not the ones used for takeoff.

    Why not?

    Retrorockets are nowhere near as weight efficient as wings.

    There are no retrorockets: only the engines already required for other parts of the mission. The weight that needs to be compared to the weight of wings is the miniscule fuel requirement for landing.

    Wings and reorientation are minor nuisances.

    Cone-shaped vehicles have been studied for decades. Their aerodynamics are trivial and easily scaled compared to those of yet another winged vehicle, which are a nightmare as you go from subsonic to supersonic to hypersonic and back. Furthermore, not only do radially symmetric capsules have no surprises, they also have fewer exciting failure modes like having holes punched in them or tearing off.

    Reorientation brings its own aerodynamic challenges. But it also means, at the very least, having to tow the vehicle to a ramp so it can be stood up again. One of the possible uses for a reusable near-SSTO vehicle is New York to Tokyo flights taking two hours. If you require specific runway and stand-up facilities wherever you land, you will find fewer airports that can accommodate you.

  16. R C, Libby might be lamer than our other trolls, but I’ll take lame over persistent and obnoxious.

    Jane/Juanita/etc. remains amusing.

  17. Way cool. But they forgot the giant spotlight that’s supposed to shine out the back end.

  18. Warren, with all due respect, you probably need to look into the history of single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO).

    Rockets should take off and land on their tails, “as God and Heinlein intended.”

    Tell me, fellow libertards, your nomination for weakest HnR troll.

    Too difficult. Lately we have an embarrassment of riches. Compounded by the fact that it’s impossible to tell the intentionally moronic cloned parodies from the unintentionally moronic earnest originals.

  19. I nominate myself as the lamest …

    Oh, wait, its for the weakest troll not the lamest commenter.

    Can I still be the lamest?

  20. A plane load loaded with all the Hit&Run Reasonoids experiences total engine failure.
    Captain Gillespie informs the crew and passengers that there enough parachutes for all, but one.

    He asks if the lamest commenter would volunteer to forgo his claim on a parachute.

    Immediately, a fight breaks out in the back of the Economy Class section between Apostate Jew and NoStar.

  21. I have to assume that the thing will be hoisted on a much larger rocket…

    In case it’s not clear from the other comments…

    What was launched was presumably a small scale prototype to test take-off, hover, and landing, along with various control systems required for flight. The real deal that will go into space will not be this vehicle mounted on a larger rocket. It will be the same thing, perhaps a bit larger. The vehicle that we can only assume Bezos hopes for in the long run that will go into orbit will be huge. But it will have pretty much the same shape and pretty much the same behavior and be designed according to the same principles and with all the lessons learned along the way.

    Reusable SSTO is technically challenging. But one of its great advantages over traditional orbital rockets is that you can test every bit of the flight profile and envelope, as you need to, with the same vehicle. Even the orbital version will first be tested with a flight to 285 feet, then with a suborbital hop, then with several emergency and abort profiles, before it will finally be launched into orbit.

    With this plan, never will Bezos have to plop a giant glider on top of a big fuel tank with two massive solid rockets on the side, tip it on its tail, and fire it into orbit — all without ever having testing the complete system in any sort of flight whatsoever. When Bezos’ ship gets to orbit, it will be only the next step from its flight halfway around the world.

  22. Who’s a troll? You guys call yourselves libertarians but don’t seem to mind the socialist project known as “NASA” taking our property for the purpose of developing a space program for all these years?

  23. Libby Tarian – Just because I like to flummox trolls, how exactly do you see enthusiasm over private space travel as equating to enthusiasm for NASA?

    Any attempt to respond without answering the question convincingly will result in my never reading another one of your comments. 🙂

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