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New Shepard: Bezos claims success on second spaceship flight (bbc.com)
333 points by lentil_soup on Nov 24, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 223 comments

Elon's reaction (quoted from Twitter):

"Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster

It is, however, important to clear up the difference between "space" and "orbit", as described well by https://what-if.xkcd.com/58/

Getting to space needs ~Mach 3, but GTO orbit requires ~Mach 30. The energy needed is the square, i.e. 9 units for space and 900 for orbit."

This may come off as sour grapes, but it's really important for Musk to point this out. It's not just that you need to go sideways at mach 24 when you reach space to achieve orbit. It's that you need to carry the fuel up to space to be able to do that. Which means that any returnable vehicle is going to be way larger to carry all that fuel. So from an engineering perspective, the size of Blue Origin is a toy compared to the size of rocket that would return after achieving orbit. Not to mention the amount of additional fuel required to decelerate a much larger mass right before landing.

> This may come off as sour grapes, but it's really important for Musk to point this out.

It does come off as sour grapes and it absolutely wasn't important for Musk to point this out. His PR team needs to deal with this, not him. He can send out congratulations and rah-rah for another amazing achievement for humanity, but his PR needs to get on the ball and show what the differences in goals and achievements BO and SpaceX have. They also should look at this as a failure to explain what the whole landing phase means for both companies. He can stay above the the whole thing. Its not like Bezos is beloved (the whole Stark / Hammer comparison is not far off).

Sort of. The ascent booster separates from the crew capsule, which basically uses parachutes for its deceleration. For descent of the booster, there will be some fuel requirements, but most of the work should also be done by the parachutes (I think. It just says "guided flight", but it would be weird if it did not use parachutes), with fuel only needed at the end.

I don't think if makes sense to decelerate from Mach 30 using parachutes.

To your second point, if you watch the video, you can see the booster descending under power, without parachutes.

Even if it did, it would be more of a drag chute rather than a parachute. The Mach 30 velocity of orbit is horizontal to the ground, not downwards.

I think klunger is referring to the Blue Origin which is deigned to take tourists to the edge of space and then come down, not to go anywhere near Mach 30. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Origin_New_Shepard#Missio...

I don't see Blue Origin claiming 'orbit' anywhere so I fail to see why that bit needed any clearing up. It is the L bit that SpaceX seems to have had some problems with to date. Musk could simply congratulate Blue Origin and leave it at that.

I'm guessing that Musk felt the need to do that because some of the early reports about Blue Origin's success were using it as a platform to trash SpaceX for failing to land on the barges. This Gizmodo article (before they changed it due to all the comments complaining) was a good example: http://gizmodo.com/jeff-bezos-new-rocket-just-made-a-control...

It was significantly longer earlier today, but it contained a factually inaccurate comparison.

Here are a couple more examples:

Wired: "Jeff Bezos just accomplished the near impossible: one-upping Elon Musk"

Link: http://www.wired.com/2015/11/jeff-bezos-brags-on-rocket-land...

Engadget: "Jeff Bezos beats Elon Musk's SpaceX in the reusable rocket race"

Link: http://www.engadget.com/2015/11/24/blue-origin-reusable-rock...

And of course SpaceX (and before them John Carmack's team) did vertical test landings on land years ago.


But expecting journalists to even google something during their fact-checking these days is hopelessly optimistic. (Reminds me of Jon Stewart's recent inverview of Fresh Air when he was asked how the Daily Show is able to do such a great job of fact-checking and digging up contradictory statements -- Google and Lexis Nexis.)

Neither SpaceX or Carmack's team were able to do that with a rocket that made it to space, however.

With SpaceX it's really just because they didn't bother, though. Getting their test vehicle to space first probably would not have been too difficult, considering that it was adapted from something meant to go to space anyway. It's just that doing that wouldn't have been useful to their ultimate goal of recovering the first stage as part of an orbital launch.

I know this sounds like a typical "I could do that, I just don't want to" boast, but it's true. There's little point in merely going to space without also achieving orbit, unless you're selling people the opportunity to say "I've been to space." And getting to orbit is way, way, way harder. In terms of relative difficulty, Blue Origin's accomplishment is much closer to SpaceX's Grasshopper flights than to their (not yet successful) barge landings.

"Journalists" not understanding basic physics? Shocking!


I made it as a member of hacker news for 1065 days with out having to listen to a penis joke; a miracle in the internet age. Oh well all good things come to an end eventually.

That still has nothing to do with orbit, making Elon's tweet(s) a non-sequitor.

Edit: I see the Musk posse has arrived at this comment.

When stories with titles like "Your Move, SpaceX: Blue Origin Just Secretly Landed a Reusable Rocket"[0], "Blue Origin Beats SpaceX In Landing Reusable Rocket"[1], "Move over SpaceX! Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin successfully lands a reusable rocket in Texas beating Elon Musk's firm to it"[2], are the main articles about it for me on google news, I can understand how he might feel the need to make the point to the general public that they've not achieved the feat SpaceX is attempting.

[0] - http://motherboard.vice.com/en_uk/read/your-move-spacex-blue... [1] - http://www.popsci.com/blue-origin-beats-spacex-in-landing-re... [2] - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3331885/Move-...

The TV News re-served the 'first time ever' speech tonight. I sighed.

Through all the ads on those sites, I still saw nothing about orbit.

The reusable part of a Falcon (assuming it actually lands undamaged)[0] doesn't go into orbit either.

Edit: Stay classy HN.

[0] "I don't expect the Falcon 9 to have a reusable upper stage" http://shitelonsays.com/transcript/elon-musk-at-mits-aeroast...

You're missing the point. The media is basically doing an apples/apples comparison with BO and SpaceX. The tweet was necessary to point out that they're not competing in the same space.

You are focusing on the word 'orbit' and not the overall meaning. The forest for the trees. You are being downvoted for arguing about something completely pointless.

If my comments are pointless arguing, so are Elon's.

Worse, Elon's are just factually incorrect (e.g. "The energy needed is the square, i.e. 9 units for space and 900 for orbit.") [and, yet, it remains, uncontested, at the top of this thread].

>It is, however, important to clear up the difference between "space" and "orbit", as described well by https://what-if.xkcd.com/58/

is a non-sequitor because no one seems to have confused space and orbit. Additionally, the comparable part of SpaceX's machines (the first stage of the Falcon 9) doesn't go into orbit (it is supposed to land not far from the launch site and does not loop around the Earth to do it).

What is the import of "orbit"? Elon is the one that brought the word into the conversation, not me.

>You are focusing on the word 'orbit' and not the overall meaning.

Then, please, what is the overall meaning of those tweets?

Everyone else has already told you, but I'll tell you again. The media is saying Elon was just beat at his own game. Elon tweeted to point out that it's a horrible comparison, what he's been trying to do is much harder.

End of story. If you can't see that, I don't care any more. I was just trying to help.

>The media is saying Elon was just beat at his own game.

The media is not a single, conscious entity. Some Gizmodo blog may have claimed as such, but I think you'll have a very hard time producing any other person who would claim that what a Gizmodo blog says is what the entire media is saying.

>Elon tweeted to point out that it's a horrible comparison

Not really. There are comparables: stick goes up, stick goes down without crashing.

Elon only appears to have made a non-sequitor argument (unless someone shows where the media made the claim that space and orbit were the same thing).

Ultimately, this is probably a defect of Twitter's character limit. It is extremely difficult to put a fully reasoned argument into a single tweet.

> There are comparables: stick goes up, stick goes down without crashing.

SpaceX did that years ago:


Regarding the factually incorrect bit, could you elaborate? I was under the impression that the energy required was proportional to the square of the velocity, so a 10x increase in velocity (from ~Mach 3 to ~Mach 30) would result in a 100x increase in energy required, which seems to be what he's saying.

Is my understanding inaccurate?

Energy is proportional to the square of the velocity, but the fuel required to reach a given delta-V scales exponentially.

Well, if you take the sentence:

>The energy needed is the square, i.e. 9 units for space and 900 for orbit.

at face value. It is either claiming that 9^2 = 900 or, it either mistated the units for space or mistated the units for orbit. This is incorrect.

If you take into account the context of the prior sentence:

>Getting to space needs ~Mach 3, but GTO orbit requires ~Mach 30.

you can probably work out 3^2 = 9 and 30^2 = 900. However, as InclinedPlane said, that's only in an idealized number, in reality, you must expend even more energy than that to achieve Mach 30 from the surface of the Earth.

We can check back to the prior contexts:

>Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster

>It is, however, important to clear up the difference between "space" and "orbit", as described well by https://what-if.xkcd.com/58/

To be short: you'd need to find where Jeff Bezos or the BO team claimed anything about "orbit".

Since others have already given up on this conversation, I probably will too.

You simply misunderstand the "square" statement. It is factually correct.

You seem to understand it later, where you say that 3^2 = 9 and 30^2 = 900, so what's the deal?

>so what's the deal?

I assume you stopped reading mid-sentence.

Getting to orbit from the surface of the earth requires more energy expenditure than "the square" of getting to space.

Here's the thing. SpaceX already landed a rocket. Lots of people have landed lots of things. So saying Blue Origin beat SpaceX to something, you have to be more specific about what that something was. SpaceX isn't even trying to land a tiny test rocket (which they already have), they're trying to land real full size rockets on real launches that go to orbit. It's a huge difference.

In other words, nobody said "orbit". But they did say Blue Origin beat SpaceX, which doesn't make any sense.

>Here's the thing. SpaceX already landed a rocket.

Right, which is why this entire thread is so confusing.

>In other words, nobody said "orbit".

Exactly. This makes the tweet a non-sequitor.

>But they did say Blue Origin beat SpaceX, which doesn't make any sense.

Yes, anyone who said that is incorrect. However, Elon did not directly address those people (at least not in these tweets).

I don't think it's immediately obvious for the lay person not familiar with space flight of the differences between the achievements of the two companies.

Let's face it, this is a huge PR stunt for BO. Congrats to them; however what they did is not the goal. Now the media, from all the articles I've seen, portrays what BO did as the same as Space X. It's unfortunate but yes, the lay person will see BO being ahead of Space X, when in reality, that's far from the truth.

Isn't Blue Origin aiming at space tourism? No orbit, you just go up on a rocket, get weightless, see the curve of the earth and the blackness of space through big windows, then land 10 minutes later. They just did a perfect demonstration of that flight.

> They just did a perfect demonstration of that flight.

You think putting passengers aboard, instead of the proverbial sand bags, will be trivial? You could afford to cut a lot of corners with an empty crew capsule.

Its hard to untangle cause and effect. I think the space tourism is to fund the engineering effort, which now can be used in other vehicles.

As an aside, it's sort of bothersome that it's termed as space tourism (not your term, I know) because it sort of belies the inherent risks associated. I'm pretty worried about what the public reaction will be when one of these 'tours' goes horribly wrong.

> They just did a perfect demonstration of that flight.

Did you see how hard the capsule landed? Look at around the 1:39 mark on the video: https://www.blueorigin.com/gallery#youtube9pillaOxGCo

Doesn't look hard to me -- are you being confused by the big cloud of dust? That's mostly caused by the last-second retrorocket.

The near-instant deceleration would feel rougly the same, regardless of whether it was caused by retrorocket or earth, wouldn't it?

Consider an airbag. It "only" increases the time for the deceleration of your upper body to O(0.1) seconds. The reason it's so effective is because O(0.1) is O(100) times larger the deceleration time without an airbag, making the acceleration O(100) times less.

The reason why an airbag is effective is prevents your head from traveling long distance so you don't break your neck. It's still painful and still can break your nose.

If they had retrorocket on the capsule, I suspect it failed.

The purpose of an air bag is to keep your head from smashing into the steering wheel or dashboard at 70MPH because the car stopped but your head kept going.

The air bag decelerates you to zero over a (relatively) much greater time, meaning much lower forces on your face, brain, etc.

Soyuz lands with a retrorocket and it looks exactly like this:


You don't need a long burn to cushion a drop like this. A fraction of a second will suffice.

To me the BO launch-and-landing is very much like what SpaceX already did with Grasshopper, only from a lot higher up.

Anyway, let's hope that SpaceX manages to land the next time they put something in orbit, that would be a big step forward, I'm seeing a lot more practical value in SpaceX than in BO.

Compare the size of grasshopper to BO's little toy rocket. Grasshopper was a full Falcon 9 first stage, which is a production GTO capable rocket.

What exactly is BO's rocket capable of? Reaching 100km altitude?

No one is more embarassed than BO engineers by the comparisons with SpaceX. They are in completely different leagues. BO is playing with toys, SpaceX is hauling commercial payloads to GTO.

It's like me making a go-kart that goes 0-60 faster than an F1 car, and saying "I've built a faster race car than McLaren!". Anyone with an ounce of knowledge on the subject would be in tears from laughter.

The first thing I thought of when I saw this video was that this group did it before SpaceX without knowing SpaceX was trying to solve the harder problem.

It seems like this gets understated (probably because, you know, it's our planet): just how energy-intensive it is to get things into Earth orbit.

Reddit has a nice delta V chart: http://i.imgur.com/SqdzxzF.png (source: https://www.reddit.com/r/space/comments/1ktjfi/deltav_map_of...)

There's also the linked NASA version: http://trajbrowser.arc.nasa.gov/traj_browser.php?NEOs=on&NEA...

SpaceX has been launching and landing non-orbit rockets for a long time: http://youtube.com/watch?v=9ZDkItO-0a4

There's nothing magical about 100 km that makes Blue Origin's rocket more useful. 100 km is just a round number. It's not useful until it's literally 100 times more powerful so it can get to orbit. Implying that Blue Origin's achievement is comparable to what SpaceX is attempting is disingenuous. But, predictably, that's exactly what the news media is doing.

100km is the edge of space. Reusable human transport payloads that go to space and back are sufficient for a space tourism ecosystem to start forming, which may be the orange Bezos is chasing (to Musk's "payloads to orbit and beyond" apple).

In that sense, this is exciting news for Blue Origin, as it gets them one step closer to the insane-but-possible goal of profitable space tourism---with the world's money being as disproportionately allocated as it is, one can imagine actually being able to find six people willing to pony up enough cash to get launched into the edge of space purely for the delightful view.

It might have something to do with half the headlines out there claiming Blue Origin "beat" SpaceX.


I imagine that doesn't matter. I can't imagine that people who would actually buy their services would not actually know the difference, so I don't see this as a big marketing/PR hit. It's not like the people who would buy these services are clueless managers who make bad IT investments. The people who'd buy these services or make investments (e.g. NASA) would know the difference as to what's what.

But, to the public who elects the representatives who control the budgets of the agencies that make the investments, it does matter. It can be critical.

We have people elected congress who don't believe in things like evolution or climate change, which affects national policy, budgets, and investments. Same thing.

Or just the representatives themselves. How long will it be before some Congressmoron asks, "Why are we giving Elon Musk $300 million to take our people to the space station when Amazon is doing the same thing for $3 million?"

I think PR for "normal people" absolutely matters when it comes to Elon Musk and his companies' reputation.

How cool is it that there are currently two billionaires competing to build a better reusable rocket. For all the problems with capitalism, this is a great benefit.

If only another billionaire would try to one-up bill gates in eradicating disease...

The main reason for that was the fact that SpaceX launched several rockets with the same goal and failed to land. Most people won't know the difference between getting to space and getting to orbit and will conclude that SpaceX failed. If you clarify however that New Shepard is a toy compared to the Falcon 9 it changes the perspective.

SpaceX already landed a rocket. Just not from that high up and not after achieving oribital velocity.

>Musk could simply congratulate Blue Origin and leave it at that.

If you actually read his tweet, copied in full in the post you are responding to and in the article, you'll see that he did exactly that.

Ok, fair cop. It looks like he didn't do just exactly that. The article I saw only gave his first tweet. My apologies.

I did actually read his tweets. And I won't put into question whether you did but it's not just one tweet, it's three tweets:


There are at least two tweets. The first one to congratulate, followed by the "clear up" tweet. I assume parent is referring to both, not just the first in isolation.

Either way, a vertical landing is pretty neat.

>Musk could simply congratulate Blue Origin and leave it at that.

Thats not his style. Plus I'm pretty sure SpaceX is pretty pissed at BlueOrigin for allegedly stealing staff. So can't say I'm surprised at the snarky response.

If it were a neutral third party I'd agree, but presumably they're competitors.

I don't know. Clearly SpaceX was gunning for a 'first' here and they simply lost that to BO. I like Elon Musk a lot and especially because they are competitors I'd be nice if he was gracious about this and not use it as an opportunity to toot his own horn.

If they wanted to make a valid criticism then they could have simply said 'but we could already do this with Grasshopper' and left it at that.

What do you mean "way to make a valid criticism"? The criticism IS valid and that is obvious. This is a tiny and light rocket, and any VTOL system that would work for a big heavy rocket would be very different from this one and a much harder thing to engineer.

You are saying SpaceX lost a 'first' here to BO but that is not really true and that's Elon's entire point. This is not the first VTOL rocket landing either, maybe it is the first rocket to officially reach space and then subsequently VTOL land but that is not as big of a 'first' as most people are thinking it is.

Which is not to diminish what BO just did, it is just to see it in an accurate context.

It's not a valid criticism because BO has entirely different goals than SpaceX and the context musk provided applies to SpaceX, not to BO.

Blue Origin has announced an orbital booster, and will be using at least the engine from New Shepard for its upper stage (presumably with some tweaks for improved efficiency at high altitude). They've hinted at much grander plans, although not with the specificity of SpaceX's "we're going to Mars". So it's reasonable to grade them on the same curve.

For suborbital space tourism, BTW, that New Shepard engine is phenomenally over-engineered. Even the fuel choice is surprising; liquid hydrogen is the highest-energy chemical fuel you can get, but it is nasty stuff to handle. (For starters, it diffuses right through the crystal grids of many metals, making your piping brittle and creating an invisible fire hazard outside of it.) So even the design of the current vehicle hints at building tooling for a much grander vision; if a large suborbital sounding rocket was all they wanted, they could have gotten it much more quickly and easily than by building what they have.

The liquid hydrogen is one reason you'll never see me near this thing, let alone on board. One facility that I know about that was used for liquid hydrogen production was basically built on the assumption that it would explode, and not just once...

> 'but we could already do this with Grasshopper'

That to me is way worse than what you claimed to be inappropriate.


For me, the 'but' negates the congratulations.

Yes, that was the situation we already had. So if there is to be a 'but' then this is the more accurate one.

The very best thing would be to either say nothing or to congratulate without any reservations.

What exactly was SpaceX gunning for a "first" in?

First space rocket landed successfully? That's been done many times, starting with the X-15.

First successful vertical rocket landing? SpaceX has done it already.

First successful vertical landing of a stage of an orbital rocket? Nobody has done this yet, and that's what SpaceX is gunning for.

SpaceX "lost" to BO in the same way you lost in a foot race to me just now down the hall.

They aren't even close to the same thing.

They don't claim orbit, but they claim (rightfully so) landing a rocket.

People with basic scientific backgrounds will make the link with SpaceX and think: "wow, they've just done something that SpaceX hasnt been able to do so far, with less funds and less attempts..."

While this is comparing apples to oranges ofcourse.

Big congratulations to Jeff Bezos & Team, but it's still quite a big difference indeed

Does Grasshopper not count for some reason?

It didn't go into space, but that's a minor achievement compared to landing it in the first place.

Thanks for noting Musk's clarification, this did leave me confused for a moment. The difference between what they are trying to do is indeed quite huge.

I feel still a bit unclear on this though: hasn't SpaceX been trying to land just the first stage module (which presumably doesn't try to achieve that Mach 30)? If so, what is the main difference -- just the size of the payload, or is the 1st stage of SpaceX itself already going a lot faster than the BO rocket? (or perhaps both).

Blue Origin's rocket is returning from a bit above 300,000ft and roughly zero speed. Falcon 9's first stage is returning from a similar altitude but at mach 6.

That adds a lot of difficulty just in terms of getting rid of that speed without destroying your hardware. Plus you need to aim from a lot farther away. The Falcon 9 includes hypersonic grid fins to steer towards the landing site, for example. (Failure of these due to running out of hydraulic fluid is what caused the first landing attempt crash.)

Just getting to that state requires a lot more of the rocket as well. If getting to that altitude is the equivalent of going mach 3, then the Falcon 9 first stage is putting in the equivalent of mach 9, so that's 9x more delta-v, which means the rocket needs to carry vastly more fuel and be vastly lighter.

All in all, the Falcon 9-R is trying to optimize for two things at once, which is always difficult. Landing a rocket vertically is not that difficult. Landing a rocket vertically while having that exact same rocket also be useful as the first stage of an orbital launcher is way harder. It's a bit like building a flying car: there are good cars, and good airplanes, but trying to build a machine that's good at both is far more difficult. Hopefully SpaceX's effort works out better than flying cars have.

For one thing, the trajectories are very different -- New Shepard is pretty much up and down, while the SpaceX booster's velocity is mostly horizontal at stage separation; it requires a substantial amount of maneuvering to cancel that out. For another, SpaceX's landing attempts have been on a barge, not flat land, which means that targeting is a much harder problem. (The latter is speculation on my part, but the New Shepard booster went through a lot of gymnastics just before landing; that sort of thing can be a whole lot easier if you just have to wind up level with zero velocity, without having to target a particular spot on the ground as an added constraint.)

EDIT: some observers claim that the New Shepard is hovering. If so, that does two things: first off, it indicates that either the stage is ballasted, or Blue is taking advantage of their engine's very deep throttle range. (SpaceX's first stage can't hover, as even fully throttled-down thrust of one engine exceeds weight of the stage at landing; so long as an engine is firing at all, the stage is accelerating up.) Second, it obviously makes the targeting problem much easier. (Note that the ballast could just be extra fuel; they've clearly got extra to burn in the landing maneuvers...)

The point is reuse of a core stage of a launch vehicle. Both Blue Origin's vehicle and SpaceX's are launch vehicles, one is sub-orbital the other is orbital. Reusing either makes their respective launches cheaper and easier, but because the launches themselves are vastly different the implications of that reuse are also vastly different.

From what the website says, one of their main goals is a commercial "astronaut experience". In that case, they're only aiming for 100km. [1]

This flight confirms they have achieved that goal, correct?

[1] https://www.blueorigin.com/astronaut-experience

>> From what the website says, one of their main goals is a commercial "astronaut experience". In that case, they're only aiming for 100km.

But SpaceShipOne achieved that back in 2004.

True, although Virgin Galactic haven't commercialized it either, correct?

Not least because the vehicle was destroyed, killing the pilot.

And in a more energy-efficient and elegant manner.

I play kerbal, and I can confirm, getting to space requires a lot of energy as the payload gets bigger.

Ladies and gentlemen, we can now present conclusive evidence that the internet has officially achieved peak-hubris.

Are the SpaceX boosters that Musk want to land going to orbit? No.

Is the extra fuel needed to make such a landing a big part of going to orbit? No.

The extra weight a enerby needed to land vertically has nothing to do with a 900 factor. Musk's tweet is thus equally disengenuous. It makes it sound like vertical landing a booster for a rocket going to orbit is tremendously harder than what BO did. It is not, it's the same ball park.

An orbital rocket takes a lot more fuel and has to go a much faster. You are being disingenuous by implying that there is no significant tradeoff when designing a much larger booster designed to take payload into orbit.

But they have to carry a lot more load which then goes to orbit, making them much more heavier, hard to control and to land. And indeed the separation velocity is Mach 6 - Mach 10 for Falcon 9, so Space-X booster needs to go faster.

I agree that the distinction needed to be made. However, this is a win for man kind regardless of the distance.


The square of 30 is.

would it be possible to keep catapulting fuel to the rocket when it runs out?

Musk is just salty that another billionaire has a newer toy.

a smaller, lighter toy which goes Mach 3 and 10km

compared to a bigger, much heavier toy which goes Mach 30 and into actual orbit :-)

The same thing is being mentioned in several places elsewhere, but to put some numbers on it:

Orbital velocity is in the vicinity of 7500 to 8000 m/s. At that speed your KE is 1/2.m.v^2 which is about 32e6 Joules/kg.

Orbits are, conveniently, at about 320 km, so your PE is m.g.h, or about about 3.2e6 Joules/kg.

In other words, the energy to get to orbit is ten times the energy to get to the altitude of orbit, and this exercise only got to 1/3 of that. So the energy involved was about 1/30 of that required to put something in orbit.

It's still a fantastic achievement, and an important - nay, critical - step on the way to properly reusable rockets, but it does lend some perspective to it.


Blue Origin did a soft landing from above the Karman line. SpaceX is trying to do that from orbit. The former involves speeds 10x less and energies 100x less than the latter.

Still a hard thing to do no matter how you look at it, but the two goals are not trivial to compare.

I see so many people complaining about the comparison but no explained it more clearly, thanks! Quick question though, isn't SpaceX trying to land just the first stage?

I believe they want to eventually land and recover all pieces.

Well, kind of. The F9-1 would be on it's way to orbit, but not there. It's a first stage after all. It would certainly have much higher energy, and is huge in comparison.

Comparing one- and two- stage rockets is a bit of a handicap, since no one (yet) is talking about landing a single-stage-to-orbit rocket.

The best numbers I can find say that the Falcon 9 stage separation is at around 80km and 2km/sec (2.8 MJ/kg of total energy), and the Falcon 9 has so far failed to land under power.

Yes, there are lots of subtleties about staging and so forth, but lots of people are talking about that elsewhere. I just thought I'd put some number to the simplest possible case so people can see the magnitudes we're talking about.

That's neat.

But what I see on video is Bezos landing a rocket and Musk blowing up a rocket.

I understand the technical differences, but in terms of media, this is a pure win.

What I see is Musk supplying the ISS, and Bezos doing a PR stunt.

Let's try comparing those on more than just media, shall we ?

Perhaps, perhaps not.

Financially speaking, between the two goals, there's enough money concentrated in private individuals' hands that you might be able to find six people willing to shell out for space tourism.

Government funding supplies the ISS. A laudable goals, but there's a grim realpolitik view that suggests it's not as guaranteed sustainable of a market as space tourism.

On the other hand, SpaceX's goals also allow for deployment of orbital payloads... Now that's lucrative.

There are plenty of videos of Musk successfully landing a rocket? Just never actually landing one from orbit.

No-one has managed a landing from orbit. Yet.

It would be a breakthrough of Gaussian proportions!

>> That's neat.

You make a very good point about public perception. But your opening line seems sarcastic and aggressive. I think that's why your comment is light grey.

SpaceX already achieved suborbital VTOL in 2013 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2t15vP1PyoA&app=desktop

Not that I have any skin in the game - I think Musk and Bezos are both insufferable billionaire jerks, scamming taxpayers and working the lower class to death - but Grasshopper went to 250m, while Blue Origin went to 100km.

it's not that much of a difference, going almost straight up and falling mostly straight down is a matter of burning longer. it is an achievement, it's just not useful for much (for the price) and overengineered at that. if it actually went to orbit and didn't come back, it'd be a bigger thing.

* Excluding your "media win" part of the comment.

Parallel parking a Prius vs. parking a dragster is different. But as you said, you understand the technical differences.

I noticed a major difference in the landing sequences of the New Shepard and Falcon 9 first stage.

The Falcon 9 first stage, if I recall correctly, is incapable of either hovering or slowly decending. The engine has simply too much power. A Falcon 9 first stage, stopped mid air has two choices, keep the motor on and go up, or turn the motor off and fall - and I don't think the motor has too many extra restarts available.

Because of this inability to hover the Falcon 9 first stage, SpaceX is attempting to have the rocket's vertical velocity reach zero at the exact moment the rocket reaches the pad. This is why when you watch the grasshopper or other SpaceX landing videos, you always wonder for a split second if the rocket has just smashed into the ground. In order for this to work, all nine axis (three each of position, rotation, and velocity) must be brought to zero at exactly the same fixed time. This is insane level control theory here.

Now this type of landing is theoretically possible - and I think it has been tested on the grasshopper at lower speeds, but it scares the willies out of me. There's almost no room for error nor for the chaos of the universe.

New Shepard on the other hand, comes to a hover about 100? feet above the pad, moves horizontally to be above the pad, stops, then lowers itself down. This is tremendously simpler since the rocket only really cares about one or two set of axis at a time, it does not have to be nearly as precise, and you have time to fix anything that's not lined up.

I'm still curious to see if SpaceX can pull off their landing style, or will instead change so that their first stages will be able to hover.

That's not entirely true. Grasshopper is entirely capable of hovering, there are plenty of videos of it doing precisely that. The Falcon 9 landings that have been attempted are a different story because they actually weigh much less at the time of landing because they have burned off most of their fuel. This makes the thrust to weight ratio much higher, making hovering impossible.

The important difference between this New Shepherd flight and those Falcon 9 tests is that the Falcon 9s launched payload to orbit. They burned all their fuel, leaving them with the incredibly difficult slam-landing manoeuver to manage at the end. They have gone close, very close, but have not yet got things entirely right.

So, although this was an impressive technological demonstration, it's a long way from demonstrating a relaunch capability. I look forward to seeing new developments.

Which part is not true?

"Because of this inability to hover the Falcon 9 first stage..."

The notion that Blue Origin has accomplished something SpaceX hasn't quite worked out is quite a laugh.

SpaceX has said repeatedly that the current Falcon 9 first stage cannot hover when landing after returning from a launch.

The SpaceX Grasshopper can hover, but that's a different rocket and its not following a trajectoy returning from space.

Hovering is also an insane balancing act for a rocket. At speed a rocket can use aerodynamic forces to keep everything lined up. In a hover everything literally turns on the engine gimbals. So there is something to be said for coming to an abrupt halt and landing immediately, before things start getting tipsy.

The hardware and engineering to make a hovering a rocket is amazing. But the control theory behind the hover is just not that tricky - It's very similar to hovering a quad copter.

If you had a JavaScript rocket simulator, with clean position, rotation, and velocity data, you could probably code a hover in five or six lines. Now it's not quite that easy in practice, but the theory is still simple.

The Apollo lunar modules were capable of hovering, using only a portion of a 0.001Ghz 16 bit computer.

Hovering in 1.622 m/s² gravity in a vacuum is significantly simpler than hovering in 9.807 m/s² gravity plus wind.

That said, it's clearly possible.

The rocket is mostly empty and decelerating at that stage; there should be little tipping going on, given that the center of mass is very close to the engine.

But that big empty fuel tank above the engine is like a sail for wind. Not to mention the possibility of fuel sloshing around inside nearly-empty tanks.

When it comes in for a landing, SpaceX seems to be using the engine gimballing a lot. The disadvantage of not being able to hover is that you don't get a second chance if things aren't looking good.


Hovering wastes energy though. The most efficient (theoretical) landing would be an instantaneous impulse that brings your velocity to whatever your landing gear can support. The Falcon economics might not support anything less efficient (than the hover-slam technique).

spacex is a company that has an insane level of dedication to product and extremely lofty aspirations somewhere near the very edge of what is currently capable by humans and allowable by physics.

From purely a process standpoint, I think that trying to tightly control 3 axis to this degree of precision is a daunting task. The need to do it this way could be entirely built into the architecture of the system, but from a "first make it work, then make it work better" stand point, the ability to hover or throttle trajectory would be an easier step one.

Outside of this single piece (reusability) and all of the vectors surrounding it, the rocket still has other challenges (e.g no launch since last failure is concerning) which need to be overcome.

SpaceX is scaling too fast and is doing an amazing job at complex coordination, however they don't seem to have the talent bandwith nor the time to tackle every problem 100% and the way they have structured reusability makes it really difficult to be successful even at ~98%.

> The need to do it this way could be entirely built into the architecture of the system, but from a "first make it work, then make it work better" stand point, the ability to hover or throttle trajectory would be an easier step one.

Of course, we can apply the same "make it work, then make it work better" stand point to the Falcon, where "work" is delivering payloads to orbit and "work better" is reusability :)

I think SpaceX can make it work. Their previous attempts have failed for pretty mundane reasons (insufficient hydraulic fluid, sticky valves) and yet have come quite close just the same. I wouldn't be surprised if the next try works, and even if it doesn't, then a few more tries should have it in the bag.

The genius of SpaceX's approach is that their launcher is perfectly viable as an expendable rocket. They are basically being paid by their customers to test the landing technique. That means they don't need a technique which can be pretty certain to work the first time, but instead they can go through a lot of build/test/crash/refine cycles without bleeding away investors' money.

If it ends up that the Falcon 9 has a 10% crash rate when landing even after tons of refinement and practice, well, that's still great! No problem, cost of access to space has still been brought down tremendously.

> SpaceX is attempting to have the rocket's vertical velocity reach zero at the exact moment the rocket reaches the pad

It's definitely hard. It's also the fuel-optimal solution (referred to as a "suicide burn", http://space.stackexchange.com/questions/10307/what-is-a-sui...).

So while it's a very difficult control solution to accomplish, being able to do it reliably translates to a significant savings in fuel cost and therefore one step closer to sustainable reusable rocketry.

So this was just a vertical hop?

It would seem that SpaceX remains in a totally different league. By only going vertical, this is a very limited "spacecraft", more akin to the Virgin spaceplane than SpaceX's launch vehicles. For proper access to space, rather than tourist hops, everyone wants to see a reusable launch vehicle --> a craft to actually boost something towards orbit rather than an altitude record. That means returning to some sort of landing after huge downrange progress. So while this is an impressive achievement for space tourism (roller-coasters for billionaires) I still see SpaceX's efforts as the more revolutionary.

It's a demonstration vehicle. The company is planning to scale it up: http://www.space.com/30543-jeff-bezos-blue-origin-florida-ro...

Essentially, it's the same goal as SpaceX' Falcon9, just a different approach (prove reuseability first, then make an orbital rocket). We'll see which turns out to work better in the long term.

I don't see the same goals. SpaceX never talked about about this sort of suborbital tourism. The problem with "space" tourism as a source of funding is that nobody has ever made a go of it. There are only so many people capable of dropping 200,000$ on an hour-long thrill ride. And only a very few of those are young enough (say under 60?) to enjoy a 5g return to earth. It just isn't a reliable source of funds ... but it does get the press coverage needed to trap naive investors.

Pretty sure nobody would enjoy a 5g return to earth...

Depends on how long 5g needs to be endured.

> There are only so many people capable of dropping 200,000$ on an hour-long thrill ride.

You obviously haven't been hanging around wealthy people. Even just being a student in London you witness nights out costing spoiled kids more than that.

Ok, slight hyperbole. But there is no shortage of nouveau riche in this world ready to spend on some high-status thrill.

Highest altitude followed by a powered landing by SpaceX: 1,000 m

Highest altitude followed by a powered landing by Blue Origin: 100,500 m

Moreover, SpaceX has gotten close to a powered landing from space a half dozen times, but has mostly failed in the last 100m. You could argue that Blue Origin just did the hard part that SpaceX hasn't been able to do. Obviously the difficulty doesn't really scale linearly like that, but I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss this accomplishment.

What Kerbal does teach users is that altitude is irrelevant for space travel. Speed is what matters. The "hard part" is pushing something to a useful velocity before attempting a landing. Returning a booster from to near-zero velocity from a near-orbital velocity is far more of an accomplishment than returning from altitude.

As far as I know, the Falcon 9 first stage has never gotten close to orbital velocity. 2km/s is better than 0 km/s, but is a long way from 7 km/s.

> You could argue that Blue Origin just did the hard part that SpaceX hasn't been able to do.

You missed one critical difference. New Shepard (and Grasshopper) can hover. The fact that Falcon 9 (during its landing phase) has a thrust-to-weight ratio > 1 means that their "hard part" is _much_ harder than New Shepard's "hard part".

It's probably worth mentioning that the SpaceX Falcon 9 can carry a 13,000kg payload, vs a 770kg payload for the Blue Origin New Shepard.

This is super cool, in case any of their engineers read this thread congratulations.

To jump in with the inevitable SpaceX comparison. Worth noting is you see the Blue Origin booster: fall, slow, hover, correct any drift, descend then land. The SpaceX booster cannot hover, it has more thrust than it weighs.

Further point of clarification, the SpaceX booster has more thrust than it weighs because it is capable of delivering payloads to orbit, which the Blue Origin booster cannot do.

All rockets have more thrust than their weight, otherwise they would not get off the ground.

Hover ability comes from having a rocket engine that can throttle down enough to match the weight of the almost-empty rocket. Blue Origin's BE-3 can throttle down to 20% of its design thrust, possibly lower.[1] SpaceX's Merlin 1D can throttle down to 70%.[2] Apparently, even with only one of the nine engines firing, it's enough to lift the almost-empty Falcon 9 first stage.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BE-3

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merlin_(rocket_engine_family)#...

I'm sure SpaceX will land their Falcon 9 sooner or later but I think this goes to show that being able to hover makes things a lot easier. Real rockets can't be set to any throttle like in Kerbal Space Program, most can't throttle at all. The Merlin's ability to throttle down to 70% is impressive, and the BE-3's ability to throttle down to 25% is very impressive.

"Throttle" is a term for rocket engines, not rockets. Being able to throttle a single engine to 25% doesn't matter so much if you can instead shut down 3 of 4 engines and throttle the remaining.

For a single-engine booster, 25% is still way too much thrust if you are shooting for orbit. A modern booster is 90+% fuel. So the empty or near empty returning booster will need an engine running at around 10% of launch thrust at the moment of landing. That's pretty much what SpaceX is doing by shutting down 8 of 9 engines and throttling the last to 80ish%.

It's not pretty much what SpaceX is doing. Even down to 1 of 9 engines and throttled as far as they can (they can go to about 70%), it has too much thrust to hover. So the amount a single engine can throttle is indeed important.

SpaceX plans to solve it by extremely accurate timing so they don't need to hover.

Direct link to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pillaOxGCo

The landing footage begins at 1:40.

The video speaks volumes about this accomplishment. The landing is spectacular.

The landing IS spectacular. The girl at the end trying desperately (and unsuccessfully) to get her champagne bottle to pop is irony at its finest.

Her gender is irrelevant to the irony.

In the English language we generally do not use genderless pronouns to refer to humans.

The one thing you know about her, apart from her struggling with a champagne cork like we all do sometimes, is that she is not a "girl."

I don't think that was intended as the diminutive term you seem to have interpreted it as.

"Guy" and "Girl" are commonly accepted 'casual' terms for men and women.

Commonly accepted by men and women, in fact. I laughably see men complaining that it's degrading to adult women while hearing my female friends happily embrace it as part of their identity.

There's no reason why a man might not be allowed to have a different opinion to a woman about what is and is not degrading to women, in the same way that finding a black man who says that 'nigger' is a part of his identity that he embraces doesn't affect my view that it is a degrading slur.

Pedantic: Guy vs Gal, Boy vs Girl. I wonder: do they always come in pairs? Dude vs Dudettte?

Video I think is from yesterday... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pillaOxGCo

Amazon Prime next-day deliveries to the International Space Station just got one step closer...

That would be amazing given that a (orbital) day on the ISS is about 90 minutes.

Sort of. There's a significant difference between breaching the Kármán line and matching velocities with the ISS (as any player of Kerbal Space Program can demonstrate ;) ).

Except for the whole 'matching trajectory' bit.

I find it quite amusing that Bezos does this and what's everyone's first reaction? Let's find out what Elon has to say!

Two billionaires trying to revolutionize space flight - it's pretty damn fascinating

Just watched the video....I think it's pretty lame that Jeff Bezos has no idea how to spray champagne out of a bottle.

spraying champagne out of bottle is lame, anyway.

someone did that at my wedding, it got on my hair and my suit. it was on me all day. it's sticky.

It's certainly lame if someone does it to you at your own wedding without you asking for it! I'd be pissed too.

Looks like they'll be taking passengers soon. Expected ticket price? Waiting list time?

By the looks of the capsule hitting the ground I'm not emptying my checking account just yet.

What about it hitting the ground bothered you? It apparently touched down at 4.4 mph which is a little slower than if you stepped off an 8in. platform. Basically find a standard staircase and slip off the bottom step and that's a touch less jolt.

The rocket touched down at 4.4 mph. The capsule looked like it came down much harder than that.

Maybe they didn't really need the capsule to touch down at a lower speed since it can withstand this, so they save a bit on cost with smaller parachutes?

Not really sure if this item alone would make any difference, but if they do plan on putting humans instead, I too would hope it doesn't land as hard as the capsule seemed to.

Ah, thanks. I was focused on the rocket landing and misread the parent.

The capsule used rockets to arrest its descent at the last moment, which made the landing look more violent than it probably was.

That's not yet announced but I fully expect it to be available on amazon.com along with "Prime shipping not available for this item"

I'm far from being an expert on such matters, but why doesn't SpaceX attempt to lasso the upper part of the rocket on landing? How about a super big soft pillow? At the very least spread out some huge arms to aid stability?

They're trying to build a system that will work for a mars landing where there will be zero infrastructure on the ground.

Wow, that is crazy ambitious. Why aim for the problems of today when you can solve the problems of tomorrow.

SpaceX, by now, should have enough people with strong applied math backgrounds to tell them, given a formal specification of the control systems on the rocket, whether what they're even trying to do is possible (within probability bounds).

I'd be interested in seeing their calculations. I just hope they're not throwing more computation at a problem that's totally dependent on how fine they can a) sense their position and momentum, and b) do something to adjust it.

They are very happy with the calculations - they've given presentations to this effect already, and they've successfully landed the "grasshopper" test vehicle. The issues with their previous attempts have all been mechanical problems (running out of hydraulic fluid the first time, stuck valve the second time, a structural failure earlier in flight the third time).

From that description, it sounds like there's barely enough rocket there to succeed. A sample size of 4, no statistics yet possible about whether its getting better or not? Anyway, its amazing how many stuck valves have derailed grand plans. The rover rocket static test had that problem (nuclear engine for Mars mission back in the 60s(?)) and killed that program.

United Launch Alliance have shown a plan to catch their falling engines with a helicopter: http://www.planetary.org/blogs/jason-davis/2015/20150413-uni...

I'm not an expert, but I believe it's to do with the Falcon 9's strength: it's strong when compressed length-ways, since it must endure the force of the rocket motors, air resistance, etc. but it is much weaker when squeezed from the side, which your lasso, robot arm, etc. would do.

There's probably an analogy to a drinks can too: when full they're difficult to squeeze, but when empty they crumple easily. By the time the Falcon 9 attempts a landing, its fuel tanks are mostly empty.

Maybe more aptly, an empty soda can is always difficult to compress vertically but easy to compress horizontally.

The Delta Clipper was historic. This has been a followon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X

Still historic. But incrementally so. The DC-X flew to 3km, the New Shepard launched its capsule to 100km.

Is this is the first attempt by Blue Origin? The first one turned to be successful?

Second attempt, I believe. Last time they recovered the crew capsule as planned but lost the rocket.

Thank you. It's interesting to look into this statistics with all the players out there (SpaceX; Blue Origin; Virgin)

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos competing with each other? That's great!

I used to be enough to get lots of big boats:

Larry Ellison; Oracle: http://www.superyachtfan.com/larry_ellison.html (including his Americas Cup yachts)

James (Jim) Clark; Silicon Graphics, Netscape: http://www.superyachtfan.com/sailing_yacht_athena.html

Paul Allen; Microsoft: http://www.superyachtfan.com/paul_allen.html (3 very large vessels)

And more recently:

Larry Page; Google: http://www.superyachttimes.com/yachts/details/333

Now you need a rocket! OK, Paul Allen did go there first, as far as I can tell.

Is this what happens when an Engineering company decides to go to space? The video (https://www.blueorigin.com/news/blog/historic-rocket-landing...) of the booster coming down like a freight train, igniting, arresting velocity and correcting for yaw, then landing on a dime was absolutely uncanny. This thing reeks of technical competence and flawless execution.

What part of sending things to space isn't "Engineering"? Are you implying SpaceX, ULA, et al. are just winging it sending things to the ISS?

The New Shepard is just getting up to space rather than all the way to orbit. If you'll recall SpaceS's Grasshopper was just as uncanny in it's landings. Now, the New Shepard has a harder job since it's going to space so it's much more impressive than Grasshopper that they succeeded. But by the same token a Falcon 9 first stage has much thinner mass fractions to work with and has to deal with horizontal velocity so landing one of those is much more impressive still.

This illustrates the almost unfathomable scope involved here. Each accomplishment is at least an order of magnitude or more harder than the last, and each one is truly impressive on their own. Yet each shadows the last!

Pretty cool times for space; I'm stoked for what comes next!

Does anyone know why it is 5x the effect of gravity for reentry? I would think it would just fall back into the Earth's gravitational pull after its thrusters are turned off. Or is it because it has an arcing path, and thrusters are deliberately not turned off during reentry so that the rocket spends less time burning up in the atmosphere? Anyone know? It's not clear to me why it would be 5x the effect of gravity on reentry.

Someone else can provide the math, but if due to the tanks being mostly empty you can burn anything from practically 0 to 5 G thrust, intuitively you burn the least total fuel by flooring it to 5G at the last minute.

Consider the alternative of burning less than 1G of acceleration, you'll fail to slow down although you'll descent acceleration will be somewhat lower. At exactly 1 G it'll keep falling at a constant speed till it runs out of fuel, then impact.

Or if you're asking why performance is so much more spritely at the end of mission, unlike boats or cars the fuel in the tanks is like 95% of the mass of the rocket, so something that barely waddles off the launch pad with full tanks weighs practically nothing at landing when the tanks are nearly empty.

It's not attaining anywhere near orbital velocity, but it's still going pretty fast. All that speed has to be shed somehow, and they do that through atmospheric drag.

The deceleration is high because the atmosphere gets thick pretty quickly, so you end up losing all that speed quickly, which means a high acceleration.

They could use the rocket to slow down --- but to do that, they'd have to carry fuel up, which makes the whole thing much larger. It's vastly more efficient to let atmospheric drag do it for you for free.

This comes from deceleration of the capsule due to air resistance as it enters the atmosphere.

Investing in space is great for humanity in general but what's gonna stop this industry from going the way of the airlines?

Is this gonna turn into a price war ?

New Shepard does not compete with Falcon 9 (or any 'real' launcher). It made a vertical hop to 100km, with a very light payload. It didn't come anywhere close to orbit (which is what Falcon 9 does).

Obligatory: https://what-if.xkcd.com/58/


Between SpaceX, Blue Origin and co it is great to finally see such competition and progress in the space sector.

As the great philosopher Mike Tyson once said: I'm a dreamer. I have to dream and reach for the stars, and if I miss a star then I grab a handful of clouds.

The video was really exciting to watch. It does appear they come back much more rapidly than Space X but this might be due to video editing. I also did not notice visible attitude thrusters, was it all done via that main motor gimbal?

They talked about brakes, I'm assuming its a combination of some gimballing and some brake modulation. Brakes can't be terribly effective at low speeds however.

Space noob here: why is it that just after liftoff, the rocket swings out to the right, and corrects. Is this intentional?


shooting from the hip... a) gust of wind; b) planned engine gimbal

Elon's Grasshopper from 2 years ago:


The New Shepard went much higher though (100.5km vs 744m).

That landing was pretty amazing! I was expecting parachutes.

It came in so fast though! With the fuel it still has on board it's one malfunction away from a cruise missile.

The spacecraft did not exit the atmosphere, but this is certainly a prepossessing feat. Congratulations to Bezos and Blue Origin.

Check the latest Elon Musk's tweets about that.

I think the big advancement here is the "reusable space rocket landing" part, not the "getting to space" part.

Yes, but if your rocket is smaller and nimbler because you only designed it to go to an altitude of 100km, isn't it easier to land?

Probably. SpaceX clearly have a huge lead, but in either case we have competition. We've got a good old fashion biggest dick contest for rockets and space. Look what that did in the 1960s!

Maybe we'll get the BFR sooner!

Great Job! Amazing rocket that 'LANDS'.

So.. they beat spacex?

As Elon Musk wrote [1]:

  It is, however, important to clear up the difference between "space" and "orbit", as described well by https://what-if.xkcd.com/58/

  Getting to space needs ~Mach 3, but GTO orbit requires ~Mach 30. The energy needed is the square, i.e. 9 units for space and 900 for orbit.
1 - https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/669129655597731841

Of course, going slower means less acceleration, which means less high-G discomfort for paying passengers. A vertical hop makes perfect sense for meerkat-mission tourism.

Well, SpaceX landed their Grasshopped rocket after going up a kilometer. Then Blue Origin landed the New Shephard after going to space but not into orbit. And soon SpaceX might land their first stage after it goes to space and also pushes the second stage halfway to orbit. But in a sense SpaceShipOne had already done the same thing the New Shepard is doing and in another the Space Shuttle went all the way to orbit and back.

This is a suborbital flight. SpaceX tries to recover the first stage from orbital launches.

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