Blue Origin logo
Update, Sept. 4: Jeff Bezos reports on his website this weekend that Blue Origin "lost" its vehicle at Mach 1.2 in an apparent test flight crash. Details, photos, after the jump.
Blue Origin logo
July 19--With NASA's historic spaceflights ending this week--yesterday was the last undocking from the International Space Station and Thursday's Atlantis landing will end 30 years of shuttle flights--the future of space travel shifts in part to Seattle. Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin spaceship development company, headquartered here, is competing in a four-way commercial race to space.
And Boeing's Composites, Fabrication and Assembly Center here makes launch equipment for Boeing's Houston-based Commercial Space Company, which is one of the three ventures competing with Bezos to win the commerical space flight competition. NASA recently awarded $269 million to the four ventures - including $22 million to Blue Origin and $92.3 million to Boeing--and by next spring expects to pick two finalists who will vie to send astronauts to the space station in 2015.
Amazon founder Bezos, as we earlier reported, is developing a vertical launch and landing spacecraft called New Shepard, and is working on an astronaut escape system. The project is unfolding at both Bezos' space-flight field in West Texas and Blue Origin's 80,000-square-foot headquarters facility in Kent. The new NASA funding enables Bezos to bring in more engineers and take development to the next level, though he's being secretive about specifics of his plans.
Not surprisingly, Boeing is considered a favorite in the competition. It's the space heavyweight, having been prime contractor on the space station and the major subcontractor on NASA's shuttle. Its space lineage can be traced to the 1960s Apollo program. Many of its employees will lose jobs as the shuttle program ends but Boeing can rehire them if the commercial venture expands.
The $92.3 million awarded by NASA in April in the second round of the space competition will help Boeing continue work on the design of its Crew Space Transportation (CST)-100 spacecraft, being built to carry up to seven people, or a combination of people and cargo.
NASA has given a total of $110 million so far toward development of the CST-100, and Boeing has partnered with two companies, Bigelow Aerospace and Space Adventures, in the venture. It also has a hand in the building of a winged mini-shuttle being developed by one of its space-race competitors, Sierra Nevada.
Alan Boyle, writing on MSNBC's Cosmic Log, says Boeing "is running in a new space race for the post-shuttle era, with a business model that will treat Boeing spaceships more like Boeing airplanes."
John Elbon, the Boeing manager in charge of the CST-100 project, tells Boyle, that the demise of the NASA shuttle is "an emotional thing . . . It's a sad thing to think about. But it's a transition, I think, as opposed to the end of human spaceflight."
Update: Here's Bezos' test vehicle, below; the first image shows it after a recent test landing, the second shows the craft heading skyward where, moving at the speed of sound, an "instability" resulted in an aborted thrust and it apparently either exploded or fell towards earth. Reports Bezos: "Three months ago, we successfully flew our second test vehicle in a short hop mission, and then last week we lost the vehicle during a developmental test at Mach 1.2 and an altitude of 45,000 feet. A flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered our range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle. Not the outcome any of us wanted, but we're signed up for this to be hard, and the Blue Origin team is doing an outstanding job. We're already working on our next development vehicle."
"Three months ago, we successfully flew our second test vehicle in a short hop mission, and then last week we lost the vehicle during a developmental test at Mach 1.2 and an altitude of 45,000 feet. A flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered our range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle. Not the outcome any of us wanted, but we're signed up for this to be hard, and the Blue Origin team is doing an outstanding job. We're already working on our next development vehicle."
Lost in space