The Blue Origin commercial spacecraft prepares for launch
Another competitor in the commercial spaceflight field is preparing for launch later this year, according to Reuters. Blue Origin, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space company, is preparing uncrewed suborbital test flights later this year, with hopes to send crewed flights up within the next few years.
The next stage in testing is made possible thanks to a new, recently proven rocket. Blue Horizon just completed work on its own engine, which it intends to use to propel its New Shepard spaceship. The craft is designed to carry three people, along with passengers and/or payloads. The company hopes to soon sign an agreement with NASA to join the rotation of other commercial spacecraft that resupply the International Space Station.
The production design of the spacecraft has not been finalized, but the image above is an artist’s representation of what it may look like.
The testing of the engine was the last major hurdle before it could begin test flights. The BE-3 liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen motor needs to now prove itself through dozens of unscrewed test flights. No word yet on when the New Shepard will begin those test.
“The engine is ready for flight … and ready for other commercial users,” Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson said.
The New Shepard spacecraft is one of several that are preparing to open up commercial spaceflight. It is slightly behind some of its competitors like Space X and Boeing’s new spacecraft, both of which are aiming to begin crewed flights in 2017, but not by much.
The New Shepard is either ahead of or right on pace with others, like the spacecraft coming from Space Exploration Technologies and XCOR Aerospace. The state of Virgin’s once promising Galactic SpaceShip Two is unknown following the fatal test flight in October 2014.
Rather than deterring Virgin and others from continuing in this potentially deadly industry though, it has spurred those involved to push further. Virgin is expected to begin testing again soon, but it has design issues to solve first.
Blue Horizon is planning to adapt the successful BE-3 engine into an orbital launch system known as the BE-4. The company is hoping to have the new engine in use within the next decade.
Meanwhile NASA is currently looking beyond orbital flights, to Mars and beyond. To do so, it is currently experimenting with several new engines, including a promising new plasma engine that can cut the trip to Mars from 270 to 39 days.