Blue’s Origins

If you haven’t heard by now, some new details (or, rather, some details period) about the New Shepard RLV being developed by Blue Origin were released last week, tucked away in a 229-page environmental assessment of the company’s planned West Texas launch site (PDF, ~12 MB). Both MSNBC’s Cosmic Log and RLV and Space Transport News have discussed the details about the vehicle, which appears to first order to be a derivative of the Delta Clipper. (I also talk about it in an article in this week’s issue of The Space Review about the second anniversary of SpaceShipOne’s flight.) The report does raise some questions about the vehicle’s development and operations:

  • The out-of-the-way location (about 250 kilometers’ drive from El Paso) is ideal for testing: as the document shows, there’s not much in the way of an environment that can be affected. It’s less ideal, though, for actual commercial operations, particularly when a commercial spaceport—presumably with more infrastructure—will be operating not that far away in southern New Mexico. Will Blue Origin operate New Shepard from other spaceports? What sort of cost-convenience tradeoff is there between effectively building your own spaceport versus using another commercial facility?
  • Compared to other operators, Blue Origin has a somewhat slower schedule, with a series of prototype tests through the rest of the decade (starting this year, according to the document), but not entering operation until 2010, after Virgin Galactic, Rocketplane, Space Adventures, and possibly others. Will they be coming too late to the market?
  • The whole flight, from liftoff to landing, will be less than ten minutes. Will that seem too short to prospective passengers? How much weightlessness time will passengers get? Or, since this will be more like a conventional rocket than spaceplanes like SpaceShipTwo and Rocketplane XP, will this be more “space-like” ands hence attractive to passengers?

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