Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin just launched its New Shepard spaceship almost as high as outer space


Anybody have a good link with an explanation of their launch system? It seems way too small to reach orbit, but its fun to think that something with enough fuel to reach orbit might someday approach that size.

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“Almost as high as outer space” is cool and useful, but it sounds like more than it is. They aren’t anywhere near going into orbit. Getting into orbit is about speed, not height…so getting to a high altitude is an order of magnitude easier than than staying there. That’s why the ship is so small and manageable, and doesn’t require the massive infrastructure and preparation we see in SpaceX or NASA launches. It doesn’t have to get anywhere near the speeds of a ship going into orbit.

I only post this because I’ve had friends send me this link with comments like “why does SpaceX and NASA need these massive rockets when these guys don’t…why don’t they have the contracts?”


This is a suborbital vehicle. It can’t reach orbit.

Reaching outer space isn’t all that hard. It’s staying there that’s the real trick.

Suborbital flight only requires going up as high as “outer space” (~100 km or above) and then falling back down. Orbital flight requires going up that high AND going ‘sideways’ really REALLY fast.

Fast enough that instead of falling down, you fall around.

Orbital flight is way, way harder.

Here, XKCD explains, with illos: XKCD:What If? Orbital Speed

This vehicle, the New Shepard, is intended for practicing tail-first landings (this attempt didn’t go so well, but they’ve flown short hops previously), and, eventually, to sell tourist tickets on suborbital “flights to outer space.”

They’re also planning an orbital launcher based on their much larger BE-4 NatGas/LOX engine - the same engine they’re selling to ULA to replace the Russian RD-180s used on the Atlas V, and to be used in the Atlas follow-on, the Vulcan.

“New Shepard”, BTW, references Alan Shepard, who made the first manned suborbital ballistic flight. Shepard rode a Redstone rocket, which also wasn’t a very big rocket - an Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM) that was basically just an uprated V-2.


So, are private rockets to the new Gilded Age what ‘cottages’ in Newport and J-class yachts to the old one? We’ve got Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two (Branson), SpaceX’s Falcon (Musk) and Bezos’ (very Freudian looking) Blue Origin.

I’m not complaining, but its starting to look like a pattern.

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Don’t forget Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch and Vulcan Aerospace.

Are these the New Gilded Age’s cottages and yachts, or are they the equivalent of early experimental steam railroads?

These guys get a lot of press, but they’re just the tip of a growing iceberg. Sierra Nevada, Orbital Systems, Bigelow Aerospace, Firefly Space Systems, Deep Space Industries, Golden Spike, ARCA Space, Masten Space Systems and so on…

There’s a lot of private-enterprise space development going on. It’s not just toys for tech billionaires.

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I noticed that in the headline, and thought close only counts in horseshoes.

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“When deep space exploration ramps up, it’ll be the corporations that name everything, the IBM Stellar Sphere, the Microsoft Galaxy, Planet Starbucks.”
-Fight Club

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ISTR having an internet discussion with somebody who was wide eyed and impressed with spaceship one. I pointed out that the design wasn’t really a stepping stone to anything because almost none of the technology would be useable in an orbital craft. “But couldn’t you go up and just toss a satellite into orbit at the top of the trajectory” My response was “Toss is not right word. If you shot a bullet out a rifle it wouldn’t be anywhere close to in orbit. Even if you first shot that rifle out of the barrel of the cannon from an M1 tank it still wouldn’t be moving a significant fraction of the required speed.”

And I’m as suspicious of the “landing on rocket power” idea as I am of single stage to orbit plans. You start sitting on the ground at zero velocity and it takes a big rocket to go fast enough to stay in orbit. When you return, you want to shed ALL that velocity before you contact the ground. So using rocket power to slow down and land requires a rocket the same size. Which if the payload is 10% of the rocket weight would require a rocket 10 times bigger to take off with… The REASON that people use heat shields and parachutes is that they are generally lighter than the alternatives. Both landing under rocket power and SSTO designs strike me as imitating conventional aircraft in an attempt to make space travel more like air travel without REALLY grasping how going into orbit is inherently different. Now I’m willing to be convinced, plenty of the people working on these ideas are smarter and know more than I do, but I want to be convinced by actual engineers, not wide eyed enthusiasts who desperately WANT space travel to be easy, Especially when they seem to think that increasing the superficial resemblance to commercial aircraft is the way to make it easy.

I’m not going to say that commercial human spaceflight will never happen, I think that there’s a good chance that it will. But it will resemble the Hindenberg more than the 747…Fairly dangerous and only for the super rich and powerful.

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This was kinda neat, I guess, but my first thought was “how is this all that different from kids launching Go Pros into near-space with a weather baloons?”

close counts in horseshoes , yes , and also in grenades , and atomic weaponry , and uhhh , curling i think ~ also the rigging of juries and such ~


Beat me to it, you and @glenblank. That said, if I had a billion dollars in the bank you’d all be lined up and sho. I’d probably be in that business, too.

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