Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.
The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)
Kara Swisher of Recode posted an interview with Elon Musk last week. Below are lightly edited excepts concerning SpaceX and Musk’s plans for Mars.
Well let’s get to rockets, then. SpaceX. Last time we talked, you said you wanted to die on Mars, just not on landing. Which was a very funny joke, although it’s probably not a joke, it’s probably —
Well, it’d be ironic if that had happened. I have to be careful about tempting fate, because I think often the most ironic outcome is the most probable….
Instead of discussing your death, let’s discuss what’s going on at SpaceX. What are some of the things you’re doing?
We successfully launched the Falcon Heavy rocket, which is the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of two. So that’s twice the power, twice the thrust of the next biggest rocket. And we actually launched a Tesla — my Tesla Roadster — to Mars orbit. The reason we did that is actually because, normally, when a new rocket is launched, you just put a dummy payload, which is like a block of concrete or something. (more…)
The Wall Street Journalreports that Blue Origin has won a contract from United Launch Alliance to supply BE-4 engines for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle. An announcement is expected today.
The decision would be a defeat for Aerojet Rocketdyne, which has been developing the AR1 engine.
The long-term, potentially multibillion-dollar agreement could provide a boost to Blue Origin’s eventual goal of becoming a major military launch provider itself. The company plans to use the same engines to power its own heavy-lift launcher, called New Glenn, which is currently under development.
Competition in the satellite-launch business is heating up. The Air Force is considering how to divvy up hundreds of millions of federal dollars to develop a fleet of lower-cost, more versatile rockets. Blue Origin, United Launch, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Innovation Systems unit, formerly known as Orbital ATK, are all in the running. The Air Force is preparing to shortly announce the first-stage winners….
Negotiations between United Launch and Blue Origin dragged on for months, with both sides bargaining hard over price, delivery schedules and production reliability. Other hurdles, according to two people familiar with the details, included United Launch’s concerns about relying on a prospective rival for its most important engine supply. It couldn’t be learned what provisions were hammered out.
Blue Origin beat out Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc., which had sought to sell its AR1 engine as the primary propulsion system for the Vulcan. A spokesman for Aerojet, which previously was picked to provide smaller, upper-stage engines for the ULA rocket, said “we are committed” to the AR1 engine and “will have a test-ready engine in 2019.” The spokesman also said that regardless of the decision, Aerojet’s “liquid engine business is thriving,” and the AR1 remains an option for possible smaller launch vehicles on the drawing board.
Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race by Tim Fernholz Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018 304 pp., illus. ISBN 978-1-328-66223-1 US$28
In 2004, a small vehicle named SpaceShipOne built by Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites and funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen flew three suborbital flights, becoming the first privately-built crewed craft to exit the Earth’s atmosphere. For their efforts, Rutan and Allen won the $10 million Ansari X Prize.
Rutan quickly teamed with another billionaire, Richard Branson, to build a successor vehicle named SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic that would carry two pilots and six passengers on commercial suborbital flights as early as 2007. It didn’t quite work out as planned; 14 years later, SpaceShipTwo hasn’t flown anyone to space.
Nicholas Schmidle has an interesting profile of Virgin Galactic test pilot Mark Stucky in the New Yorker that sheds some light on what’s been going on at Richard Branson’s space company. I’ve excerpted some interesting passages below.
If you’ve been watching the videos of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity‘s first three powered flights and thinking to yourself, Gee, it looks like that thing really wants to roll…well, you’d be right. Here’s an account of the first flight on April 5. (more…)
Reuters has an update on Blue Origin’s progress toward flying people aboard its suborbital New Shepard spacecraft.
Executives at the company, started by Amazon.com Inc founder [Jeff] Bezos in 2000, told a business conference last month they planned test flights with passengers on the New Shepard soon, and to start selling tickets next year….
One Blue Origin employee with first-hand knowledge of the pricing plan said the company will start selling tickets in the range of about $200,000 to $300,000. A second employee said tickets would cost a minimum of $200,000. They both spoke on condition of anonymity as the pricing strategy is confidential.
The company will do the first test in space of its capsule escape system, which propels the crew to safety should the booster explode, “within weeks,” one of the employees said.
While Blue Origin has not disclosed its per-flight operating costs, Teal Group aerospace analyst Marco Caceres estimated each flight could cost the firm about $10 million. With six passengers per trip, that would mean losing millions of dollars per launch, at least initially.
Tickets aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo cost $250,000, although early ticket buyers will pay $200,000. Richard Branson’s company says it has sold around 650 tickets for the suborbital space hop.
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
While Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg have been the crosshairs lately, President Donald Trump is reportedly obsessed with Amazon and founder Jeff Bezos.
What we’re hearing: Trump has talked about changing Amazon’s tax treatment because he’s worried about mom-and-pop retailers being put out of business.
A source who’s spoken to POTUS: “He’s wondered aloud if there may be any way to go after Amazon with antitrust or competition law.”
Trump’s deep-seated antipathy toward Amazon surfaces when discussing tax policy and antitrust cases. The president would love to clip CEO Jeff Bezos’ wings. But he doesn’t have a plan to make that happen.
Behind the president’s thinking: Trump’s wealthy friends tell him Amazon is destroying their businesses. His real estate buddies tell him — and he agrees — that Amazon is killing shopping malls and brick-and-mortar retailers.
Bezos’ ownership of The Washington Post — which has been critical of Trump — is not helping matters any.
New test video of Blue’s 550K lbf thrust, ox-rich staged combustion, LNG-fueled BE-4 engine. The test is a mixture ratio sweep at 65% power level and 114 seconds in duration. Methane (or LNG) has proved to be an outstanding fuel choice. @BlueOrigin#GradatimFerociterpic.twitter.com/zWV0jWXIvx
NEW YORK, Feb. 21, 2018 (Explorers Club PR) — What is fueling the next generation of exploration? Is it insatiable curiosity, new technologies, enduring spirit, or an extraordinary and exciting combination of all three?
These are some of the challenges that will face more than 1,000 of the world’s foremost explorers and guests at the 114th Explorers Club Annual Dinner at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square New York, on Saturday March 10, 2018. (more…)
TEMPE, Ariz. (ASU PR) — Three Arizona State University student-led payload projects have been selected to launch into space on Blue Origin’s “New Shepard” space vehicle later this year.
The projects were selected during a competitive pitching competition Monday night at the School of Earth and Space Exploration. To earn a spot on “New Shepard,” students were challenged to do one of three things for their payload project: answer a science question, test technology development, or engage the five senses (smell, taste, sight, touch, sound) in space.
While Boeing and SpaceX move toward flying astronauts to the International Space Station this year, there are two other companies working on restoring the ability to launch people into space from U.S. soil.
Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic aren’t attempting anything as ambitious as orbital flight. Their aim is to fly short suborbital hops that will give tourists and scientists several minutes of microgravity to float around and conduct experiments in.
Video Caption: New Shepard flew again for the seventh time on Dec. 12, 2017, from Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site. Known as Mission 7 (M7), the mission featured the next-generation booster and the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0.
Crew Capsule 2.0 features large windows, measuring 2.4 feet wide, 3.6 feet tall. M7 also included 12 commercial, research and education payloads on board.
Crew Capsule 2.0 reached an apogee of 322,405 feet AGL/326,075 feet MSL (98.27 kilometers AGL/99.39 kilometers MSL). The booster reached an apogee of 322,032 feet AGL/325,702 feet MSL (98.16 kilometers AGL/99.27 kilometers MSL).
Editor’s Note: Jeff Bezos tweeted that an instrumented test dummy was on board the spacecraft.
It seems that nothing so becomes a politician’s public life like the announcement that he or she is leaving it.
George Washington’s decision in 1796 to not seek a third term as president is widely hailed as the ultimate example of a small-r republican virtue of restraint the general demonstrated throughout his public life. Americans trusted Washington with power because they knew he would exercise it wisely and, that when the time came, he would walk away. Voluntarily.
In an age when many kings claimed a hereditary right to rule for life with absolute authority, relinquishing power was an astounding act. But Washington, a master of exits in war and peace, knew it was time to go. In so doing, he set a two-term precedent for the presidency that would stand for 144 years.
More recently, we’ve seen another result of what happens when politicians decide they’ve had enough: candor. Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) both launched fiery broadsides at the current occupant of Washington’s old office — and a member of their own party, no less — upon announcing they would not seek re-election next year.
During this past week –his first full week as the richest person in the world — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sold one million of the company’s shares, worth $1.1 billion, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.
After accounting for the stock sale and capital gains taxes, Bezos ended the day Friday with a net worth of $93.7 billion, $4.1 billion higher than Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates, now the second richest person in the world….
At a space conference in April, Bezos explained that he was selling $1 billion of Amazon stock a year to finance his rocket company, Blue Origin. Bezos has now sold more than $2 billion pre-tax in Amazon stock this year. Last year, he sold Amazon stock worth $1.4 billion (pre-tax), while in 2015 and 2014 he sold $534 million and $351 million of stock, respectively. He is still by far Amazon’s largest shareholder, with a 16.4% stake.