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The commercial space race is on!
Many companies are in the race to get to space, and sell a viable service for commercial glory, and to bring the final frontier one step closer.
Jeff Bezos, the owner and CEO of Amazon, and his company Blue Origin, have carried out a successful test of their rocket system called New Shepard. Here’s what they did:
They powered up the rocket, sent the rocket into the sky, cut off the engines, and after a controlled descent actually landed the rocket again. This shows the re-usable capabilities of the Blue Origin rocket.
This differs from the traditional approach of sending a rocket into space and leaving parts of the rocket to crash down to Earth or leaving parts of it in space.
Why is a re-usable approach important?
Because it will make sending stuff into space, like people or satellites, significantly cheaper if you don’t have to keep on rebuilding rockets after every launch.
Amazing video of the Blue Origin rocket launch
Blue Origin have made an amazing video highlighting what they achieved, it even has a cool soundtrack for added impact.
The video includes actual footage from the launch, and simulation of future capabilities sending humans into orbit. I say orbit, because that’s slightly different than ‘space’ (see below for a full explanation).
Showing humans in orbit, on a commercial space vehicle really highlights what’s at stake. Soon, if Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin company have their way, people will finally be able to go into orbit and beyond. Of course, you’ll likely have to have pay a lot of money for the privilege.
A Crash Course on Blue Origin Rocket Technology
The steps involved in the process are as follows:
- The system launches from the ground, from a space port.
- The rocket gets to a high altitude, and at the target height initiates separation between the rocket, which is the driving force, and the payload, which is a capsule that contains humans along for the ride, or satellites.
- The capsule does it’s thing, and is eventually pulled back by gravity. To provide a soft landing, the capsule deploys parachutes.
- The rocket, makes a controlled descent, meaning it will go back down to Earth, again thanks to gravity.
- Once near the ground, the rocket will land, by providing thrust, and at the same time keeping control of the rocket, which is a difficult task.
It looks easy, by looking at the video, but it’s not easy task to control the power of a rocket!
Blue Origin provide some nice specifications on the engines, and the level of thrust that the engines and the various stages deliver. It just goes to show what it takes to pull away from the gravity of Earth.
What features does the New Shepard space vehicle have apart from amazing levels of thrust:
- As mentioned, it’s fully re-usable, that’s a big thing! It means cost of delivering a payload decrease, because you can simply re-use the rocket. Both the rocket and the capsule are re-usable.
- The capsule can seat six people. Meaning six people could catch a ride at a time.
- The capsule has big windows. That’s important if you spend big money to go up into space. Can you imagine the selfies you can take up there?
- Many fins and brakes on the rocket for steering and orientation purposes.
Near Earth Orbit
Companies such as Blue Origin are going into space. But that’s not quite accurate.
Their first goal is to achieve near earth orbit, which is not quite space.
Near earth orbit is the area between Earth’s atmosphere and space. So it’s not space as such, but it has many of the same properties which would be interesting to future paying customers that want a ride on a rocket. One property is weightlessness. In near earth orbit you can float around just like in space.
Why only go to near earth orbit and not into space?
Well, it’s easier! You don’t have to go as far, and you don’t have to fully get away from the pull of Earth’s gravity.
Obviously, once commercial companies are more developed, they’ll head past near earth orbit and into space proper.
Other Companies Involved in the Commercial Space Race
Blue Origin isn’t the only company to go after the final commercial frontier. Other contenders include SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk (who is also founder of Tesla and Solar City), Virgin Galactic, which is backed by the serial entrepeneur Richard Branson, and Orbital Sciences Corporation, or just plain Orbital for short.
Each of these companies are in advanced stages of development and testing of commercial space rockets and delivery systems.
With the likes of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk involved, it seems that going into space is attracting the famous and modern captains off industry.
Will their names live on in history as the people who bring affordable access to space for the masses?
We’re one step closer to providing access to space for the masses.
This is only a test, so there’s a long way to go. But each step is a welcome step.
Which space company will be first to provide a ride to space? We’ll keep you updated!