Video & Image Credit & Copyright: Blue Origin.
Surprise! On Wednesday, April 29, 2015 Blue Origin, founded by Amazon billionaire founder Jeff Bezos took to the West Texas skies with the first test flight of their developmental suborbital New Shepard spacecraft.
The “Propulsion Module” serial number 1 (PM-1) which is what they call the booster, jumped off their Texas proving grounds launch pad, located roughly 65 miles west of Pecos TX and soared to an altitude of 307,000 ft. (93,573 m) or 58 mi. (93 km). Though that falls short of the 62 mi. (100 km) boundary of space the flight as a test was a success. According to a statement from Bezos, the crew module separation from the propulsion module worked perfectly before parachuting back to Earth but the booster could not be recovered as designed this time.
Bezos also stated that Blue Origin has already begun work on New Shepard’s Propulsion Module’s 2 & 3 as well as its “Very Big Brother” which will be an orbital spacecraft and powered by the company’s BE-4 engines. The BE-4 will also be the main engines on the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan rocket.
BLUE ORIGIN, THE NEW SHEPARD CAPSULE AND PROPULSION MODULE:
Blue Origin is a partially secretive private aerospace manufacturer founded in September of 2000 by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. Its goal is to dramatically cut the cost of spaceflight and increase spaceflight vehicle reusability. Headquartered in Kent, Washington, their proving grounds reside in West Texas, roughly 65 miles west of Pecos Texas in Culberson County. Future plans are to incorporate their New Shepard spacecraft in suborbital commercial spaceflight and in the distant future progress into orbital commercial spaceflight.
Blue Origin’s company motto is Gradatim Ferociter “Step by step, ferociously” and that’s what they’ve been doing with their New Shepard capsule and propulsion module. With Blue Origin and New Shepard thrust into the spotlight this week, it seems a good a time as any to detail the capsule and Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) launch vehicle in greater detail; let’s check it out.
NEW SHEPARD MANNED SPACECRAFT: The New Shepard manned suborbital crew capsule is named after the one and only Alan Shepard from Derry, NH. On May 5, 1961 he became the 1st American in space and on February 5, 1971 became the only member of the Mercury 7 to reach the Moon. The capsule itself is 530 cubic feet which, according to Blue Origin (I’ll take their word for it) is 10 times the space Old Shepard had in his Freedom 7 Mercury capsule. The capsule is designed to fly up to six astronauts with some room to spare. There will be large windows (5 or 6) that allow passage of 92% of light that contacts them allowing for crystal clear views.
Reentry will come via parachute landing and if there’s a pad emergency, the 2 second 70,000 lb. thrust “full-envelope” pusher escape system located under the capsule will carry the crew to safety where it will then land via parachute.
FYI: This isn’t the first time Blue Origin named a vehicle after a spaceflight legend. Their Goddard Subscale Demonstrator was of course named for the father of rocketry, Robert Goddard who launched “Nell” the 1st liquid fueled rocket on March 16, 1926 from Aunt Effie’s Farm in Auburn MA.
BLUE ENGINE-3 (BE-3): The Propulsion Module or booster for the New Shepard vehicle is powered by a single liquid fueled, single combustion chamber, Blue Engine-3 (BE-3) liquid hydrogen & liquid oxygen (LOX) engine that generates 110,000 lb. of thrust or over 1 million horsepower. This combination; as with the three Space Shuttle main engines (SSME’s), generates no toxic byproducts. In fact, the resulting leftovers after the hydrogen and oxygen combine and ignite it, well…..water. Also like the shuttle, the -423 degree °F fuel has a massive temperature swing, burning at 6,000 degrees °F. The BE-3 engine is the first liquid hydrogen fueled engine to be produced in the United States in over a decade.
The BE-3 engine may be used on the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket’s upper stage and Blue Origin is currently working on their BE-4 engine which will provide main booster power for the ULA’s Vulcan rocket as well as New Shepard’s “Very Big Brother” orbital spacecraft.
PROPULSION MODULE: This would normally just be called the rocket or booster, and it is, but this is so much more than that. The Blue Origin Propulsion Module is a Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) booster designed to loft the New Shepard spacecraft into suborbital space.
After launch, the Propulsion Module will deliver New Shepard to suborbital space before separation. The body of the module is fitted with a ring (where New Shepard sat) that air can flow through after separation and during reentry to control descent. Four wedge-shaped deployable fins affixed to the ring will also help to provide stability needed for a stable descent.
That’s great for stability but how does it slow down? Aside from the natural slowing effect of air friction the ring atop the Propulsion Module is also fitted with eight (4 sets of 2) drag brakes similar in nature to what you see on fighter jets. According to the Blue Origin main site, the addition of these brakes will cut its speed in half.
So we’ve stabilized and slowed the vehicle to a manageable speed, now how do we bring it back? The BE-3 main engine re-ignites to provide thrust and the ability to power itself back to a landing site. Even though the engine roared at 110,000 lb. of thrust at liftoff and powered flight, it can also be re-ignited and deliver a thrust of only 20,000 lb. which allows for a touchdown of about 5 mph. There are four aft-fins at the base of the Propulsion Module to steer the vehicle during flyback.
Just before touchdown, four landing legs will deploy from the bottom of the Propulsion Module to provide a safe and stable touchdown and landing.
Blue Origin: https://www.blueorigin.com/