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Blue Origin successfully lands both booster and crew capsule after test launch (techcrunch.com)
602 points by Ours90 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 195 comments

I really appreciate Blue Origin's methodical approach to building this system. I note that they are closer to being operational than Virgin Galactic who I consider their primary competitor.

The challenge I have with the 'suborbital tourist' economy is that while some folks will pay $200K per ride for less than 3 minutes of zero gravity, one has to compare that to the Zero Gravity Corp which gives you over 6 minutes of weightlessness (in 20 - 30 second increments) for $5K[1]

Sure there is the 'Concorde' effect where the very wealthy will all do it once so that they won't feel left out at cocktail parties but that does not seem sustainable.

My hope is that Blue Origin's plans to move into orbital flights is successful. Spending $200K to spend nearly 90 minutes (1 orbit) weightless has much more appeal.

[1] https://www.gozerog.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=reservations.we...

I don't think the aim is for New Shepard to be a sustainable business, you only need maybe a dozen or two launches to gain experience and knowledge to pump back into the New Glen project. If they can have a tourist soak up $200k of the cost, then that's great because the astronaut doesn't actually do a whole lot on these trips, save for being a human guinea pig to send vitals back down.

Once New Glen starts launching in 2020, they want to quickly move past human certification, so practicing with New Shepard is less costly in terms of critical-path length and probably financially too-- bigger rocket, bigger spend per test.

I don't think a lot of people get this. These "space tourist" companies don't have an end goal as space tourism. The problem with launch vehicle companies (launch PROVIDERS) is that they don't always have something to launch (provide). To sustain your company you need to launch often. Rather, to sustain the low price on your vehicle you need to launch often.

You also need to get to a high TRL for confidence from contractors. People are more willing to take risks than someone sending up $100m+ satellites or vehicles. Those successful human missions get you to a TRL 9 pretty quickly.

But many of these companies have much bigger aims than tourism. Tourism is part of it, but more like orbital hotels, lunar hotels, etc. Not a short trip. But also mining. There's A LOT of money in mining once the vehicles get cheap enough. Which they aren't if you're flying a few times a year (like how most things come down in price when you manufacture at scale).

Nit pick: The point of the ride isn't to get 0 gravity. IT IS TO GO TO SPACE! That has a value much higher than that 5k 0g rides. Sure, 0g is part of it, but that's not why ANYONE is buying a ticket.

>Nit pick: The point of the ride isn't to get 0 gravity. IT IS TO GO TO SPACE!

This is an incredibly important and underrated point. People aren't going (just) for the roller coaster ride. They're chasing the overview effect, the perspective-altering thrill of seeing the Earth from space.

I suspect a lot of people will pay handsomely for it. If they do (and it works despite the trip's brevity), prices will steadily drop as design and build costs get amortized away to nothing. Eventually it could be accessible to the majority of people (in developed countries), at least at a level where if you saved up you could get to space once in your lifetime — a sort of secular pilgrimage for the 21st century.

Given the apparent change in the worldviews of those who experience this effect, if we're lucky it might even help make the world a little bit better.



You can perhaps get the same effect by riding a U2 spy plane. I remember seeing a video (this one I believe [1]) where journalist James May got to ride one and you could hear the elation in his voice. "Like a view to eternity... Nothing like twice the altitude of an airliner." Welcome to the world of high flight indeed.

[1] https://youtu.be/1PmYItnlY5M

Same curved earth perspective when Adam from MythBusters flew in a U2: https://www.facebook.com/MythBusters/videos/adam's-u2-flight...

8 people out of 536 that have gone to space report the overview effect. That's not necessarily a huge impact.

The eight examples mentioned in the Wikipedia page are far from an exhaustive list. They don't include many examples from the original Frank White book, to start. (White also defines it quite broadly, to include the feeling you get in an airplane when watching tiny cars moving along the ground.)

Even if the hit rate is low, that doesn't necessarily deter thrill-seekers. 4,800 people have successfully climbed Mt. Everest (8,300 times[0]) at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars ($45k-70k[1], $11k for the royalty alone[2]), and the very real risk of death (375 deaths). The success rate is about half,[3] up from under 30% before 2006.[4]

[0] http://www.alanarnette.com/blog/2017/12/17/everest-by-the-nu...

[1] https://www.alpineascents.com/climbs/mount-everest/price-sch...

[2] Down from $25k before 2014 https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/02/140219-moun...

[3] https://www.quora.com/How-many-people-attempt-to-climb-Mt-Ev...

[4] https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/everest-by-the-numbers/in...

It will be the ultimate Wealthy Boy ride/experience.

It's too bad the average scientist, especially astronomers, astrophysicists won't be able to afford to ride the ride?

(I'm not suspose to bring up the wealth divide in America, but it's been just so---what's the word--obvious. I'm at the point where I'm thinking about the future. A future where companies will just cater to the small percentage of the population with the biggest wad? Yea--I'm envious. )

At first this will be true, as with many new products. But as hardware and development costs are amortized over time and competitors enter the market, we can expect prices to drop to marginal cost. That could easily be in reach of ordinary people, somewhere in the 5 digits. (I don't believe the $10 million estimate quoted elsewhere below for a second — and the 'analyst' who made it offhand in a quote to a news organization doesn't seem to have backed it up anywhere.)

By the way, your account has been dead for a very long time. https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14766847

In that case the smart money would be in orbital transfer. The oversupply of capacity to get to low earth orbit will create a demand to go further.

This is really a good point about going to space. People pay 20K USD to fly MIG-25 in Russia. One does not get zero g on those flights, so money covers the thrill of observing Earth at 25 km at 1750 mph.

You can get perhaps a minute of zero g on a MiG-25, that's just not what people ride it for.

> Nit pick: The point of the ride isn't to get 0 gravity.

Yeah, not to mention that this is actually an impossible goal. And if it's the weightlessness sensation you are after, just get a new vomit comet. You need an airplane for that, not a rocket.


Yeah, you need a rocket for that. A very small one. Oh, you mean to stay in space? Yeah, now you need a pretty big one.

If the object really is

> a dozen or two launches to gain experience and knowledge to pump back into the New Glen project

then it's probably cheaper to never fly a tourist. It's not great if the revenue from tourists is smaller than the opportunity cost of making the thing safe for tourists.

Indeed, I think one important factor that is overlooked is that they are gaining experience in manned launches, sub orbital or not once you put a person on a rocket it’s a whole new ball game.

This is can in the long run give them an advantage over SpaceX depending on how fast SpaceX can actually shift towards manned launches.

> $200K per ride for less than 3 minutes of zero gravity

There's more than just weightlessness to appreciate on a suborbital flight. Plus the 8 minutes up and 8-20 minutes back down are probably pretty fun too.

apparently even ex fighter pilots say the return trip on soyuz is the craziest, scariest ride of their lives.

Since this is sub-orbital it won't be nearly as intense as reentry in something moving as fast as the Soyuz capsule.

That's not actually true, Soyuz re-enter on a very shallow profile, shedding a lot of speed over a lot of time with relatively low G. Additionally, Soyuz is a lifting body, which makes the profile even shallower.

Mercury had 8g deceleration on orbital reentry vs 11-12g on suborbital one.

I was surprised to see a higher deceleration on suborbital flights - is that due to a flatter trajectory for the return from orbit?

Agreed. Let’s say if I earned $200K/yr, and was close to “retirement”. I’d consider working an extra year to take a 90 min orbit in space. I would not make that same decision for a 3 min joy ride.

Would you be interested in a financing program that allows you to take your flight and pay it off throughout your life? No prepayment penalties.

The earlier you do it, the longer you can live life sharing your experience and viewing everything through its perspective, instead of just fly and die maybe a decade later or so.

This sounds like a monumentally terrible deal for the creditor. There's nothing securing that loan, if the debtor went bankrupt the creditor would lose all of it. If it was secured by something like the value of a home then that's just a regular reverse mortgage.

Even the initial price is not far from the credit card limits middle class people with good credit can obtain unsecured. Obviously the interest rate on that would be usurious, but Blue Origin has enough marginal profit margin (and cash) that it could conceivably finance the program at reasonable/zero interest with tolerable risk.

Just noodling about the economics, 7 passengers at $200K each is $1.4M gross revenue. So assuming very low earth orbit (basically you just need to be above enough of the atmosphere that you won't re-enter before the end of your first orbit) that is still a very low cost for a Falcon9 launch given that the second stage is not recovered. So you need to recover both stages operationally "close" to where they lifted off so that you minimize refurbishment/transport costs.

I'm guessing that would be that the second stage provides retropulsion to get you back to nominal zero velocity over the return point.

So that would be launch, booster returns to the pad, and the second stage pushes you up enough to insure an orbit, then your orient for return. Enjoy the view etc, and then the second stage relights to cancel your velocity to 0 as you arrive over the launch facility (you'll have to scoot 1000 miles or so east as well given planetary rotation) and then separate for a parachute landing of perhaps both the capsule and the second stage booster.

Sounds pretty complex. But you would have to recover all equipment if you wanted to have a chance as meeting the economics of that.

> Sounds pretty complex. But you would have to recover all equipment if you wanted to have a chance as meeting the economics of that.

All equipment, and especially the people in the equipment. One "safety incident" would crash the whole operation.

> Enjoy the view etc, and then the second stage relights to cancel your velocity to 0

That is not feasible. Your second stage would have to be roughly as large as an entire orbital rocket in order to slow itself down from orbital speeds to zero, which means your first stage would have to be massive in order to push the second stage into orbit.

The reason every vehicle that re-enters the atmosphere uses a heat shield is because it's way easier to carry a relatively light heat shield that sheds off the speed than to carry the massive amount of fuel to shed off the same speed.

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

If instead of a circular orbit you just went for an arc with a really high apoapsis you could probably burn a little fuel to reduce the forward momentum to zero, and then proceed to slowly plummet back to earth... which then means you need a really big heat shield as that gravitational potential energy turns back into kinetic and you smack into the atmosphere at a ridiculous velocity. Scratch that, too much Kerbal.

a tall suborbital parabola that falls back into the atmosphere at an 85 degree angle is basically the same re-entry heat as if you were to do what you described, fly the parabola, and thrust retrograde at apoapsis to cancel out the downrange velocity, then fall into the atmosphere dead vertical.

It's horizontal velocity (actual LEO velocity) that causes the heating effects a Soyuz or Dragon type capsule needs to survive with heat shield on re-entry.

And for marginally more than the cost of a single orbit, you could stay up there for days or weeks.

You cannot save 100% of your pre-tax salary. That said, you make an interesting point

By the time your reach retirement age you should have saved enough to last you the rest of your life, so that effectively any additional income can be spent completely.

> You cannot save 100% of your pre-tax salary

Depends on the industry in which you earn your salary. Some are not above the board.

And where you work. I've had Dubai-based companies try to sell me on "work here, pay zero taxes". (I politely told him I cared more about human rights.)

Interesting. Which industries in particular?

Illegal ones

I've been on the Zero Gravity Corp plane- it's cool, but if I had the money to drop, I would absolutely rather go to space. Minutes of sustained zero g would be mindblowing compared to what I experienced.

Genuine question: what is the difference? In both cases you are just falling. Is the difference just an effect of atmospheric turbulence?

In parabolic flight you are only weightless for 20-30 seconds at a time. You then experience high g forces going back up and repeat.

Consider, people can also feel weightless by jumping yet extending that to 20-30 seconds is worth 5k.

If "jumping" is a valid comparison, how does it compare with skydiving? You can freefall for 1-2 minutes doing that, with roughly zero training.

Freefall at terminal velocity is 1g not zero gravity. So, you only really get zero g for a at low speeds near the aircraft.

PS: You can do hours of floating on air in an indoor wind tunnel (ex: www.iflyworld.com), but again that's not weightless.

Thanks. I didn't really understand weightlessness until this made me think about it. If I stood on a normal weighing scales, falling vertically feet first, the scales would show my weight when at terminal velocity, because the force of the air on the bottom of the scales would equal my acceleration under gravity. And the same force would be transmitted to me by the scales. Then if we take away the scales, the air below me is acting on me the same way as the ground normally does. Same in the indoor wind tunnel where the air is moving up instead of me moving down, I'm still at terminal velocity there.

If I was free falling in a vacuum, or somewhere that the air was being accelerated at the same rate as my fall (like a space station or a vomit comet), there would be no such force, the scales would read zero, and I'd experience what they call weightlessness.

Is that all correct?


>I really appreciate Blue Origin's methodical approach to building this system. I note that they are closer to being operational than Virgin Galactic who I consider their primary competitor.

It's also worth mentioning that Virgin Galactic has eschewed the Karman Line, preferring the old "50 mile" definition the Air Force uses for astronaut wings. SpaceShipTwo's apogee is expected to be under 100km during this test campaign, though they have said that heavy test equipment sandbags performance.

I think the price difference between 200k and 5k might be the very difference of a quick suborbital trip and the vomit comet. I will wait for better economics :-)

Sounds like they have a business plan similar to Tesla —- sell expensive model s (200k$ flight ) then work their way down to affordable levels

There's more to a suborbital flight than weightlessness. It is the chance to see that view that may matter the most.

The article glosses over what kind of rocket this is, so it's worth pointing out that New Shepherd is a suborbital booster. You can't launch satellites with it, only go up and fall back down.

Still cool though!

ADDENDUM - if you want to keep an eye on other projects, their reusable orbital booster is New Glenn. IIRC it's higher capacity than Falcon 9, maybe more toward Falcon Heavy. Last I heard they're shooting for a first test launch in 2020.


Note that New Glenn, like Falcon 9, is only partially reusable — the booster is recovered but the second stage is expended. Both companies have aspirations to reuse the second stage, but few tangible plans so far. New Shepard is in some ways a technology pathfinder for New Glenn's second stage, which will (as of January[0]) use a vacuum-optimized version of New Shepard's BE-3 booster engine.

New Glenn's payload is somewhat greater than reusable Falcon Heavy.[1] Falcon Heavy's is likely greater with a center core expendable or fully expendable mission, which Blue Origin says it will never opt to do.

[0] https://spacenews.com/blue-origin-switches-engines-for-new-g...

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/BlueOrigin/comments/5ygtaa/new_glen...

SpaceX's BFR is full reusable, and is currently the main engineering focus of the company.

SpaceX's BFR is planned but there's never been a BFR launch.

I don't think plans count.

Seems reasonable to compare it with other rockets that have never been launched, then. I think it is a much more impressive concept than anything anybody else is seriously talking about building in the near future, but it really is next on SpaceX's "list". BO's next planned rocket doesn't get a pass on its non-existence just because it's less impressive (maybe a bit more impressive than what SpaceX has already flown to orbit).

Personally a lifetime of learning to be cynical makes me think that BFR is too awesome to be true and that it will never happen. Maybe BO's careful approach and Bezos' deep pockets will let them succeed where SpaceX will ultimately fail.

On the other hand, SpaceX has not yet given us any concrete reason to expect them to fail. Quite the contrary, in fact.

New Glenn hasn't launched either. They're on similar schedules, BFR has suborbital testing scheduled for 2019.

The big difference being the SpaceX can use Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 launches to continue to pay the bills while they develop BFR and as yet Blue Origin is just being funded by Jeff's massive wealth.

Which to be fair, Bezos will die long before he runs out of money, even pouring several billion a year into Blue Origin.

Bezos’s “play money” is a far larger pile than SpaceX will accumulate from operations. Hopefully both can succeed.

No doubt Bezos has a deep pool to draw from, and the folks at Blue Origin always know that their investors are aligned with their goals.

Operationally though, I think the jury is still out on how much money SpaceX can pull in there. At 22 launches per year that would be nominally $2.2 billion in revenue per year. Make three of those launches Falcon Heavy and that takes it closer to $2.5 billion. How much of that ends up on the bottom line is a good question, I'm guessing we won't know for sure until the S-1 drops.

Is that on the same time scale as Falcon Heavy doing it's first launch in 2013?

In fairness Falcon Heavy was delayed as SpaceX managed to double the capacity of Falcon 9 making a business case for the heavy version less clear.

Both New Glenn and BFR are effectively paper rockets at this point. Seems reasonable to compare them.

BFR is the main engineering focus of the company. They've already started fabricating and testing many of the parts (including the engines, fuel tanks, and fuselage). It is far past the point of existing only on paper.

That sounds disingenuous to me. This was a reply to a comment for an upcoming rocket that is currently just a blueprint. I don't understand why people actively choose to discount Musk's blueprints but other companies' blueprints don't get the same responses.

And BFR is well past the blueprint stage anyway. They're doing actual fabrication and testing of many parts of that rocket already. It's the main engineering focus of the company -- Falcon 9 is effectively done and Falcon Heavy is a side project (also mostly done).

I am aware. I'm following r/spacex closely. But with lack of official confirmation of a test article I was taking the worst possible stand against SpaceX to still prove my point.

So basically, it's a very very expensive 10 minute amusement park ride with 10G's and a lot of danger? :-)

The 10Gs is only if the first stage blows up and they need to abort the launch.

And a lot of pollution.

As with everything else, depends on where the energy came from. The rocket itself is burning liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, so the only exhaust is steam. You have to take a step back and look at the energy supplied to split water into hydrogen and oxygen and to cool and store it. Conceivably that could be done from renewable sources if customers are willing to pay for it.

What orbital rockets today are launching a 1st stage with liquid oxygen and hydrogen? I thought they are mostly used for upper stages where they are required for combustion in space. For example, the Falcon 9 uses LOX and refined kerosene in 1st/2nd stages. and the to-be New Glenn burns methane/LOX for it's 1st stage. It matters less what the 2nd/3rd/etc stages use as they are basically out in space at that point. Admittedly, the New Shepard booster from the article uses LOX/LH2, but, it's sub-orbital.

I was referring to the suborbital New Shepherd there. Delta IV and Delta IV Heavy are LOX/LH2 orbital rockets, though the light version of that is being phased out.

> I thought they are mostly used for upper stages where they are required for combustion in space.

Why are they required for combustion in space?

Well in my layman's understanding, rockets generally need a fuel and some kind of oxidizer since there is no free oxygen in space. Hence, the LOX?

Get that deadly dihydrogen monoxide out of my atmosphere!

Its true. I fell out of a boat once and got some of it in my lungs. You do not want to play around with that stuff. Even a little bit in the wrong place is very dangerous...

Seems like there's something profound to say about pollution in that joke somewhere.

Well, let's not forget that water vapor is a greenhouse gas[0] though not quite as serious as others since it will condense out in clouds and increase albedo.

[0] https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/monitoring-references/faq/greenhou...

what's the atmospheric half life of high altitude water vapor?

New Glenn is not higher capacity than anything, it has never reached orbit.

Note that this flight tested an in-space abort, firing the crew capsule's solid motor to simulate an emergency escape from the booster.

Because the abort took place after MECO, the capsule reached an apogee of 118.8km. This will likely stand as New Shepard's altitude record.

Blue Origin previously tested a transonic abort and (unexpectedly) recovered the booster. Recovery did not appear to be in question this time.

More like "in high altitude, low air pressure environment abort". This thing will never go to space. It's not designed for that.

This is false. Space begins at 100km, the Karman line. New Shepard's typical apogee is about 107km, while this flight reached nearly 119km.


The karman line, the generally agreed upon edge of space, is at 100km. This capsule apparently reached 118km.

It definitely didn't reach orbit and it isn't designed to be in space for long, but I wouldn't say it won't ever go to space.

My understanding is that the New Shepherd is designed for space tourism. With that in mind it is designed specifically to reach space.

Interesting that they stated a passenger would have experienced a peak of 10 Gs, that seems excessively high for tourism. The space shuttle launches were around 3 Gs and Soyuz rockets around 4 Gs.


That's 10G during an abort motor firing. Shuttle didn't have those in the first place, and Soyuz's abort motors produced ~18G iirc.

Fuck it. Deleted.

Based on a cursory view of the available history of failed Soyuz missions, and particularly those involving the abort mode, what you said is empirically false. The cosmonauts on the failed missions were not punished, and in those missions where they survived, many of them went on to crew later missions.

You are being downvoted because you tried to introduce a "does anyone else think Soviets were nasty evil people?" rhetoric into what was previously a technical discussion.

Also, the gp commenter seems to misunderstand what 18g would do to somebody. For an extended span of time, that's a death sentence. For just a moment, it's likely going to knock you out, but it's survivable by healthy people and it's far better than being in a rocket explosion.


The only two people to use a launch escape system were Vladimir Titov and Gennady Strekalov. They were bruised but did not suffer spinal injuries. They were treated with cigarettes and vodka.


Because the most worrisome injuries would have been psychological.

Airplane ejection seats compress the spine. Rocket LAS fires in the direction that doesn't compress your spine.

You're being downvoted because you have an incredibly poor understanding of the Soviet space program.

Yuri Gagarin's first flight was in 1961, 8 years after Stalin's death. The purges have long stopped. The constant hunt for wreckers did, too. Yes, there was still political repression, but it was for political action, not "Oh, the project went up in smoke, we're sending the entire team to Siberia."

There was both a disregard, and a regard for safety in the cosmonaut program. Disregard because of heavy political pressure on deadlines, regard because it looked really bad for a cosmonaut to die. The track record that resulted was... Mixed. Could have been much better, but not a complete horror show.

After the failure of Soyuz-11, for instance, the program was grounded for 2 years, the Soyuz capsule was redesigned, and the number of crew in it was reduced, for safety reasons.

10 G is not sustained. 10 G max is not enough for airbag deployment in cars.

For a short time is nothing to talk about during emergency when it comes from the back (eyballs in) and you are protected from the whiplash.


Agreed, I've read you get about 4g peak deceleration going down stairs. But people seem to survive that process on a regular basis. So a temporary 10g is not a problem, and the effects of gravity loads on the human body are well studied and understood by military and aerospace organizations.

This test fired the emergency abort motor. Normally, the rocket peaks at around 3Gs:

https://www.blueorigin.com/new-shepard > Accelerating at more than 3 Gs to faster than Mach 3...

This is testing an abort procedure, not something that's meant to be a part of your everyday ride into space.

This was a test of an emergency abort. You wouldn't experience that on a nominal flight.

true, but it is not sustained Gs, it's in a reclined & fully supported position (i.e., its more mechanical stress on the body than draining blood from the brain, which requires special training & G-suits to counteract). Also, this would an exceptional event, not the standard launch profile.

I'd call it a reasonable spec, though it does seem that each passenger should be medically cleared and, ideally, physically tested beforehand.

This. It's like getting rear ended while siting in a racing bucket seat with a proper harness. Not comfortable but also no big deal.

Completely irrelevant, but boy are those blue origin rockets ugly.

I read it somewhere that Elon Musk was since the beginning very demanding of aesthetics, in his rockets as well as cars. This has resulted in some beautiful looking rockets and cars.

Having said that I believe it's primary for rockets to be safe and efficient rather than beautiful.

All the white tubes pale next to the pure retro aesthetics of the Soyuz!

The only thing with any claim to match it is the Saturn V with it's black and with paint job and fashion fins.

That's turned out well for his rockets, but man are most (except the S) of his cars ugly.

Roadster too?

In my opinion, especially the roadster. Easily the ugliest sports car since the fox body mustang. Right up there with the MR-S.

Edit: The 1st Gen roadster. I'll reserve judgement on the second gen until it's released, but it looks a lot like the new NSX in photos. And the new NSX looked great until we saw them in real life and they turned out to be possibly the worst supercar of the 21st century.

1st gen roadster isn't really a Tesla design, that's just a Lotus Elise body.

I mean, it is a Tesla design in-as-much as I really like the Lotus Elise and really dislike the Tesla. They specifically restyled the Elise horribly. Probably at the request of Lotus, but it's certainly a design failure imo. You're right though, they did start from a Lotus Elise.

I stopped listening when they said "curve of the Earth"

The difference between suborbital spaceflight and orbital spaceflight is like the difference between reading a book about Antarctica and going to Antarctica.

Difference in delta-v is roughly 8 times higher for low orbital flight.

Difference in aerodynamic heating is more than that. I think Blue origin is still supersonic/high supersonic, re-entry from orbit is hypersonic and requires different materials.

The temperature difference.

This was probably the most pragmatic transaction i've seen all week.

Is it me or the capsule didn't land where it supposed to be? from the video looks like there was a spot for it.

Also, landing at 16mph seems a little rough? I guess the capsule is not reused?

The rocket & capsule are designed to be fully reusable.

Retro rockets fire just before landing. This is the main cause of the dust cloud that kicks up around the capsule.

Various sources on the web put the touchdown speed at 1-3 mph.

Edit: the 3mph comes from a test where they disabled 1/3 of the parachutes [1]:

Similar flights had been done with the same craft three times before, but this time around, one of the capsule’s parachutes was disabled. Bezos said the two parachutes slowed the descent to 23 mph, as opposed to the usual 16 mph with three parachutes.

Just before the touchdown, the capsule’s retro rocket system fired. Bezos said that brought the speed at impact down to 3 mph. The capsule was equipped with a ring of crushable bumpers on its bottom to absorb that remaining force.

[1] https://www.geekwire.com/2016/jeff-bezos-blue-origin-test-ch...

Thanks. Looks like no retro rockets on the capsule this time around to me. Wonder what the underside looks like now.

Looks the same as previous landings -- a big puff of dust. Normally everyone's showing up to claim that it looked like a hard landing, but the dust is kicked up by the retrorockets that make the landing soft.

On this thing's trajectory and apogee, re-entry heating will be minimal if any. I wonder if they've looked at putting a crushable/deformable honeycomb type single use structure bolted onto the bottom side, that can be replaced after every flight.

That's the booster landing pad. Round parachutes have little control authority — I doubt the capsule steers them at all.

Besides the booster landing there is another one like 2 miles aways.


Please don't troll here.


Please don't troll (or be trolled) here.

Straight up... straight down. No orbit. Nothing to see other than "tourist" flights for people who want to see what space is like but without weightlessness.

To judge a suborbital launch for having not made orbit is to criticize a Ferrari for having not reached 30,000' above a test track. The goals are different, and the metrics are different.

Blue Origin is moving through a planned series of test flights necessary to bring untrained astronauts into space on their own custom hardware with an improved margin of safety.

Comparisons with SpaceX will again become reasonable when either a) One of the companies launches a person into space, as both aspire to do, or b) Blue Origin begins an orbital campaign.

Congratulations, Blue Origin. You crushed it again today.

They aren't going to space! The thing barely makes it to to edge of the atmosphere. How long are you gonna keep apologizing for them? There's literally no technical innovation here.

No payload. No orbit. No value.

I'd say any sort of reusable booster is technical innovation. They had test payloads. And no one is apologizing for anyone.

I'm sorry, it's not technical innovation. If someone invents a horse and carriage when the automobile is already in existence, the horse and carriage is not innovation. The poster who has been downvoted out of existence is correct.

If there‘s any freefall involved there will be weightlessness, orbit or not.

> while the booster drops back down, kicking in the landing gear and rocket-powered breaking system to land on the ground, unscathed. The capsule, meanwhile, using a pair of parachutes to coast back to Earth

Nope. No weightlessness at all.

The capsule experiences ~3 mins of freefall/microgravity/“weightlessness” - in fact, they’ve already flown payloads that depend on this.


I can experience that jumping out of a plane and for way longer than 3 minutes.

No, you can't. You'll feel the force of air resistance (drag) as soon as you exit the plane, increasing until you hit terminal velocity and 1g.

I think you misunderstand weightlessness. The Blue Origin capsule got to about 75 miles altitude and low earth orbit starts about 100 miles, while Earth's surface is about 4,000 miles from the center of gravity. In other words, the force due to gravity is essentially the same for all of these. Weightlessness is falling, that's it.

It's time to stop with the dismissals in this thread.


I’m sure there’s some period between booster cutoff and the parachutes. They’re not sending the chutes out while the capsule is still on the upward part of its parabolic arc.

Will it be a profitable business?

You could bootstrap the future of space flight simply by starting with a small profitable company.

Getting to orbit is a big step. You can look at the history of SpaceX and Rocket Lab to get a grasp of what it takes -- hard to imagine a sub-orbital tourism company getting there without an injection of capital. Which, btw, is how Rocket Lab did it: they started with sounding rockets, proved that the knew what they were doing, then got a big round to go orbital.

No need for that, Jeff Bezos is funding Blue Origin with 1 billion each year by selling Amazon stock.

It hasn't exactly worked out for XCOR or Virgin Galactic, what will Blue Origin's edge be?

A huge reserve of capital and the long-term vision necessary to do every piece right.

XCOR filed for bankruptcy. That’s not profitable.

Virgin Galactic isn’t a profitable company either. They could be, of course.

My point was that you can start with a small company with a well-defined goal and product then continue to grow the vision, as long as you remain profitable.

Yeah I don't disagree here, my point was that Blue Origin's particular goal and product bootstrapping from space tourism has already been tried and more or less failed. Whereas Musk's/SpaceX's goal is to get a Mars colony going, they started with something different than space tourism and it seems to be working out.

Virgin Galactic hasn’t failed yet. Someone was killed so they’ve been extremely cautious.

Bezos is a good business person. It’s quite possible he’ll run thin margins and grow the business.

You could have said the same about the first couple Mercury flights. It is a progression leading to orbit.

This comment is Hacker News in a nutshell.

Yup. Merely finding fault is the easiest, most trivial thing to do.

edit: oops, I was shown to be wrong and I stand corrected.

Downvoting without discussion is even easier . . .


You believe this to be an appropriate comment?


Seems like SpaceX is a light year beyond these guys. Do they just get coverage because they're a private space corp?

SpaceX is light years beyond what they are doing right now.


Jeff Bezos has said he plans on spending $1 Billion/year on blue origin.

Unlike SpaceX, they don't need to actually worry about money.

To put in perspective how much money Jeff Bezos has (and he is somebody who really want to do space travel): he could privately fund a manned mission to mars and still remain the richest man in the world.

It's just incomprehensible the resources that they have there. Blue O will almost definitely catch SpaceX.

He might as well spend $10B a year, results will be the same. Time is money, but money isn't time.

Bezos frequently speaks about efficiency of deploying capital. My guess is he doesn't believe he would get 10x results from 10x investment.

I'm sure that there is some speedup when he starts spending more than $1 billion. Given that his net worth reached $150 billion it seems like it's safe to go to $2 billion/year without running out of money during his lifetime.

Blue Origin is more of a wild card than SpaceX - because they have Bezos backing them with his endless bank account, they don't have to release products day-to-day like SpaceX does to fund their more ambitious plans. This also means that the public doesn't get much in the way of feedback on how well BO's development efforts are going.

For the press, that means that it's really hard to judge whether BO's vehicles are vaporware or not, which fuels endless speculation. I personally happen to think that SpaceX's "ship something today" situation is good for their development process, but that may just be my software experience showing.

Releasing often does make the release process more polished...

In a recent interview Bezos said paraphrasing, it's pointless to go to Mars.

So really there is no comparison since the main goal of Musk/SpaceX everything it does seems to be making the technology to get to Mars.

Did you miss the part where his goal is to have millions of people living and working in space, both in orbit and on the moon? Bezos certainly has a vision, it's just a different one than Musk's.

That and it's run by Jeff Bezos, who has the money to do this for the long haul.

It's been said before, but it bears repeating: Bezos and Musk are literal Bond-villains -- freaky looking billionaires building ICBMs under our very noses -- and no one is doing anything about it.

Where is the gadget-laden, womanizing secret agent who will save us?

SpaceX has been a phenomenal force in space flight, but their whole philosophy has been to move fast and break things. And consumers have gotten to watch crash after crash and explosion after explosion.

Bezos is making the bet that the average person is to trust their luggage but not their life on SpaceX. If they take their time and get it right, there are huge second mover advantages here.

> crash after crash and explosion after explosion.

Are you maybe confusing launch failures with landing failures?

As far as I know SpaceX has had two major failures since they started flying Falcon 9. CRS-7 (second stage failure during flight) and AMOS6 (second stage failure during static fire on the pad). They had another minor failure where they lost an engine but still delivered the primary payload to the ISS.

I believe SpaceX has had more successful Falcon 9 launches after the AMOS6 failure than before it. So they've doubled their flight count without another failure.

Someone else brought up ZUMA which has been reported to be a failure of the payload provider (Northrup Grumman)'s specialized payload adapter which failed to release the payload correctly.

SpaceX has had a lot of videos of rockets crashing into barges and the ocean but those were experimental tests which weren't expected to succeed initially and which have no bearing on the success of the mission. They made those videos public even though there was no need to. Probably both for PR reasons and because it's cool to see the attempts and failures leading up to their landing success.

Holding those crashes against SpaceX is like holding crash test videos against an auto manufacturer because "their cars keep crashing".

>Are you maybe confusing launch failures with landing failures?

I don't think they're confusing them, but rather they're worried that consumers might confuse them. SpaceX's videos of their landing experiments got a ton of space fans excited about them, but it very well may have created an association of SpaceX with explosions in the average layman's mind. Blue, meanwhile, while it hasn't penetrated the public consciousness yet, deliberately projects an image of conservatism and caution.

(That said, it seems unlikely that someone so uninformed would be a potential customer.)

Good point about the potential perception issue. I do think that the Falcon Heavy launch was a huge PR win for them, and probably has made a much larger impact that Blue's lack of explosion videos.

I feel the kind of consumers able to afford space tourist flights would also do extensive research before putting down their money. Forming a perception based on some amusing YouTube videos should surely be discounted by a myriad of other factors.

>it seems unlikely that someone so uninformed would be a potential customer.

I couldnt believe my programming friend bought into the Elon hype. Has 3k of stock and bought a tesla.

Even smart people have weaknesses and overlook things. I remember being an Elon fan until I saw on front page reddit:


And it turned out to be a reddit astroturfing/vote manip thread. And then I couldnt unsee, so many threads advertising his projects. Elon is a marketer.

Tesla customers are laying out $70k for a car that they will personally drive.

SpaceX customers are laying out $50-80M to put a $100-200M piece of hardware into orbit.

It's the latter we're talking about in this thread.

This comment does not deserve to be downvoted so far. SpaceX's policy is absolutely to move fast and iterate constantly instead of relying on hardware 'legacy' and keeping designs static. This is a stark break from the way traditional space companies do things, and both sides have recognized that it has caused some friction with NASA as it adjusts to SpaceX's way of doing things.

Dan Rasky's (excellent) oral history videos[0] of his time as NASA's liaison to SpaceX for technology transfer under the COTS program touches on this, as does SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell's oral history.[1]

Blue Origin's motto, on the other hand, is Gradatim Ferociter: Step by Step, Ferociously. They are known for moving slowly and surely.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SMLDAgDNOhk

[1] https://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/C3PO/Shotwel...

> consumers have gotten to watch crash after crash and explosion after explosion.

No, it definitely deserves to be downvoted.

It's a valid point. Even though we informed spaceflight observers know that these explosions were experimental (and would've happened anyway, more violently even, when boosters were expended), the average member of the public may not be familiar with the nuances of booster recovery.

It's plausible that it could become a PR issue.

People watching videos on Youtube are not SpaceX consumer/customer. Or am I missing something?

Here is a full SpaceX manifest both past and future: https://www.reddit.com/r/SpaceX/wiki/launches/manifest

As it stands right now, they are most likely the largest rocket company right now (or at least the top 2), they seem to be adding more order every other month. Not a sign of their customer base losing confidence in them.

This is true, of course, but I think the grandparent is talking about the far future. Eventually, if Musk's and/or Bezos' visions are to be realized, the average person will be a consumer — whether for space tourism, earth-to-earth transit, industry, or colonization.

New Shepard 1 crashed.

There's no footage that I'm aware of.

It's all about perception I guess.

Err really? This isn't some social network – you don't get to just "move fast and break things" with rockets, because people can die. Also someone has to foot a very, very large bill for you to break things.

Sure, maybe they test things out with rockets they know are already going to crash. But that's as far as I'd go.

Do you have a citation that shows that SpaceX has more incidents per launch than other craft?


I googled it for you.

>"Zuma" satellite is the third payload sitting on a Falcon 9 that has been lost in four years. By way of comparison, United Launch Alliance, SpaceX's sole competitor in the military launch business, hasn't lost a single payload in 12 years and 124 missions.

>two recent government reports raise questions bearing upon the reliability of SpaceX products and processes. The first is an evaluation of quality controls among launch-vehicle suppliers to the military space program. That report, prepared by the defense department's Inspector General and dated December 20, found 181 deviations from quality standards at contractor sites. Over a third were "major nonconformities," meaning deviations that might contribute to a failure in quality controls.

Zuma was not a SpaceX failure. This article is FUD by the COO of a think tank linked to the defense industry.



Okay how does that negate the other payload losses that SpaceX has had, with only half the number of launches as its competitor? SpaceX has 61 launches according to this: http://www.spacex.com/missions

You've totally missed the point.

Haha, and then you edited your comment to attack the source. Honestly the person could have been North Korea's super extra special space dictator and it wouldn't change the reality that SpaceX has a higher incident rate than comparable companies. Which is what OP basically asked.

ULA is indeed remarkably reliable — that is its main advantage, given its high prices. However, ULA is only the sole competitor to SpaceX in military launch — for commercial and NASA launches several other alternatives exist. Let's take a more thorough review:

• Proton-M: 9 failures and 2 partial failures in 102 launches.

• Ariane 5: 2 failures and 3 partial failures in 98 launches

• Antares: 1 failure in 8 launches (this is SpaceX's competitor in NASA resupply launches)

• Pegasus (smallsats): 3 failures and 2 partial failures in 43 launches. Derivative Minotaur-C had 3 failures in 10 launches.

• Falcon: 1 failure, 1 partial failure, and 1 non-launch payload loss (Amos-6) in 58 launches (59 campaigns).

SpaceX's failure rate is in line with industry norms.

While ULA has a perfect safety record since it was formed in 2006, its rockets do not (though they are still impressive).

• Atlas V: 1 partial failure in 78 launches.

• Delta IV: 1 partial failure in 36 launches.

>two recent government reports raise questions bearing upon the reliability of SpaceX products and processes. The first is an evaluation of quality controls among launch-vehicle suppliers to the military space program. That report, prepared by the defense department's Inspector General and dated December 20, found 181 deviations from quality standards at contractor sites. Over a third were "major nonconformities," meaning deviations that might contribute to a failure in quality controls.

Bizarrely, the author here attributes nonconformities at all three EELV contractors — including ULA and Aerojet Rocketdyne — to SpaceX. The actual breakdown:

• ULA: 21 major, 43 minor

• SpaceX : 33 major, 42 minor

• Aerojet Rocketdyne: 14 major, 28 minor


>SpaceX's failure rate is in line with industry norms.

SpaceX's 93% launch success rate is still below average for ALL launches (94-95%), and has a higher incident rate than its "competitors" in any form. That's what was asked. You don't need to apologize for SpaceX.

Some of the rockets in your "thorough" have radically different missions, specifications, and costs than the type of rockets we're discussing. Let's talk about what we're actually comparing. Orbital launch rockets actually beat "industry" averages by a signification margin. And let's talk about failures, unrecoverable ones.

* Altas V (actually built by Lockheed Martin, not ULA): 98% successful launch rate.

* Delta (entire family): 99% success rate across the ENTIRE family.

* H-IIA: 98% success rate

* Araine 5: 98% success rate.

* Long March (entire family): 98-99% success rate.

See a pattern? All of the above families have mission histories of 100+ launches.

>the author here attributes nonconformities at all three EELV contractors — including ULA and Aerojet Rocketdyne — to SpaceX

No they didn't. Are you just purposefully misreading the article?

>The first is an evaluation of quality controls among launch-vehicle suppliers to the military space program. >at contractor sites.

Beyond reading comprehension differences, I am not interested in willfully misrepresenting basic facts as some sort of intellectual jerk off exercise. SpaceX is below the industry average and way below the launch success average for the type of work they're doing. That's what the OP asked.

> let's talk about failures, unrecoverable ones.

Then why is spaceX at 93%? 2 unrecoverable failures in 59 campaigns equals 96.6% success.

All the competitors you listed have roots in government space programs going back many decades. Rockets tend to have a lot of "infant mortality" that those programs are way past.

Also, some of your claims are value/wrong: the Delta and Long March families are very large and very old and if you count the earliest attempts of governments to build ICBMs you get reliability figures worse than SpaceX.

Conversely the H-IIA, Delta 4, Atlas 5, Ariane 5 have fewer than 100 launches each.

Good data can be found here: http://www.spacelaunchreport.com/logsum.html

  (ATLAS ORBITAL     325(46)     .86    .86)

  (ALL ATLAS         582(116)    .80    .80)

>the Delta and Long March families are very large and very old and if you count the earliest attempts of governments to build ICBMs you get reliability figures worse than SpaceX.

"If you do this thing that you didn't do, you get worse figures."

Um, okay.

But you did write (entire family) for Delta and Long March. Your data is confusing and wrong.

...for orbital launches, which is quite literally what 99% of these rockets have been used for. Which also is exactly what we are talking about.

It's only confusing if you're wanting to be disingenuous.

>Altas V (actually built by Lockheed Martin, not ULA)

Er, what?

(Missed this before.)

You could maybe, I dunno, click on the wikipedia link and read it.


>It was formerly operated by Lockheed Martin and is now operated by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture with Boeing.



Yes, it wasn't built by ULA.

>The Atlas V was developed by Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services

Honestly just stop.

Do you mean originally? ULA is a 50/50 joint venture that Boeing and Lockheed Martin were forced into after almost corporate-espionaging themselves into oblivion. It owns, operates, and manufactures the factories and rockets that each company used to provide independently — Delta from Boeing and Atlas from Lockheed.

>SpaceX's 93% launch success rate is still below average for ALL launches (94-95%), and has a higher incident rate than its "competitors" in any form. That's what was asked. You don't need to apologize for SpaceX.

How do you get to this number? Even in the least charitable way to calculate it, excluding Falcon Heavy, using Amos in the numerator but not the denominator, and counting the secondary payload loss on CRS-1, Falcon 9's failure rate is 3/57. That's 5.2%, or a success rate of 94.74%.

>Some of the rockets in your "thorough" have radically different missions, specifications, and costs than the type of rockets we're discussing. Let's talk about what we're actually comparing. Orbital launch rockets actually beat "industry" averages by a signification margin. And let's talk about failures, unrecoverable ones.

Zero of those rockets are non-orbital. The only one not in Falcon 9's class is Pegasus (though the TESS mission was intended for Minotaur). Ariane and Proton are Falcon's main competitors in the commercial market, where ULA is uncompetitive.

>See a pattern?

Yes, designs tend to get safer as they mature. Falcon is at 58 launches and is likely to exceed 80 before any crewed launch. Its last failure was mission #29.

>All of the above families have mission histories of 100+ launches.

Counting 'family' legacy back to ICBMs is ludicrous. Atlas V has flown 78 times, Delta IV 36 times (Medium and Heavy), H-IIA 39 times.

And can you cite those family success rates? The Thor/Delta family, by a quick calculation per Wikipedia's launch lists[0], has an 87.42% success rate.[1]

>No they didn't. Are you just purposefully misreading the article?

No, but the article's author is purposefully misleading readers by citing that number alone:

>Against that backdrop, two recent government reports raise questions bearing upon the reliability of SpaceX products and processes. The first is an evaluation of quality controls among launch-vehicle suppliers to the military space program. That report, prepared by the defense department's Inspector General and dated December 20, found 181 deviations from quality standards at contractor sites.

Moreover, ULA rockets consist of both ULA and Aerojet Rocketdyne parts (and indeed RL10 caused Atlas' partial failure). If we're correlating nonconformities with risk, their numbers should be added together. And, of course, the inspector general didn't evaluate RD-180 production facilities.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Thor_and_Delta_launche...

[1] https://i.imgur.com/izkMH14.png

>Counting 'family' legacy back to ICBMs is ludicrous.

I didn't do that and you know it. Those are all rockets used in orbital payload missions. All of them have been used within the last 5 years.

I used some inline JS for this table here:


That table doesn't show success/failures...

You can click on each rocket and look at the launch history. I am again, done with this conversation because of how disingenuous you are willing to be.

We're still 20-40 years away from when the "average person" can afford a trip on either of these rockets. And SpaceX and Blue origin are very different companies right now. A lot remains to be seen.

consumers have gotten to watch crash after crash and explosion after explosion

Just like the hundreds (thousands?) of pre-SpaceX test rocket launches from Greenwood Lake, New York to the modern rocket era.

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