New Shepard's success: reusable carrier and suborbital tourism

On leave into orbit

On November 23, a test unmanned launch of the New Shepard complex, a single-stage launch vehicle and spacecraft for suborbital space tourism, took place. The capsule reached an altitude of 100.5 km and successfully landed by parachute. For the first time, a launch vehicle made a successful landing on engines:

Success did not come immediately - during the first test launch on April 29, 2015, an altitude of 93.5 km was reached, but the rocket crashed due to a loss of pressure in the hydraulic system.

If you dig a little deeper, the main surprise for New Shepard is the engine. In fact, by 2015, the startup managed to create a restartable throttled engine BE-3 on a pair of "hydrogen-oxygen" with a thrust of 1 to 50 tons. The engine did not appear immediately - the engineers trained on crampons, developing the BE-1 and BE-2 engines on hydrogen peroxide, but the result is still impressive.

Wide range restart and throttling capability means this engine will be very useful in the upper stages of space rockets. And the use of a hydrogen-oxygen fuel pair, which has the maximum specific impulse, means that the BE-3 will be very effective in this role. Yes, the fact that an open circuit with a phase change is used means that the specific impulse will be below the maximum possible 450 seconds (the exact value of the specific impulse BE-3 is not published in open sources), but open circuit motors are simpler and cheaper, which is important for a private space company. Theoretically, based on the first stage of New Shepard, it is already possible to create a light launch vehicle that would launch several hundred kilograms into low orbit. But Blue Origin's plans are more ambitious - now a BE-4 engine on a methane-oxygen fuel pair with a thrust of 250 tons is being developed. With such an engine, it will be possible to create a medium-class launch vehicle with a payload in the region of 8 tons to low-earth orbit. It is assumed that the first stage of this rocket will also be reusable.

An article appeared on Geektimes, in which it was argued that comparing New Shepard and Falcon 9 is incorrect, they say, what Bezos achieved, Musk did for a long time on Grasshopper. I do not agree. Yes, the New Shepard is smaller, shorter and lighter than the first stage of the Falcon 9 and does not place a payload into orbit. But both stages return from suborbital flight and make precision landings in a limited area, and the Grasshopper was a test bench that did not restart the engine or climb more than a kilometer. If we talk about the complexity of the task, then no one forced Musk to experiment with landing a medium-class launch vehicle at once, especially since he started with a light Falcon 1 rocket. Also, both rockets should test in practice the economic benefits (or lack thereof) of reusable launch vehicles, so their comparison, despite the difference in tasks, is correct. Knowing the negative experiences of mankind with the Space Shuttle made me a skeptic about reusable launch vehicles. But now that we have two potentially reusable launch vehicles, especially in different classes, it is very interesting to look at their test of time. Let me remind you that we will be able to learn about the economic efficiency (or lack thereof) of reusable rockets years after the start of their serial operation, which neither SpaceX nor Blue Origin have been able to achieve so far. But we are witnessing an interesting experiment - the fact that the Falcon 9 is a mid-range rocket, and the New Shepard is a geophysical (suborbital) one allows us to look at the scalability of a reusable scheme. It may be that the complexity and cost of maintaining a reusable system will plummet with decreasing size, in which case New Shepard is best placed to be economically successful.

Compared to the success of Blue Origin with SpaceX, it turned out that Bezos has become a very dangerous competitor in the field of suborbital space tourism, where in previous years everyone had talked about Richard Branson with SpaceShipTwo. And the success of Blue Origin clearly showed that the New Shepard design is better in several ways. Firstly, Blue Origin is capable of testing a new stage six months after the accident of the launch vehicle. After the SpaceShipTwo disaster, the second flight prototype, under construction since 2012, is still not flying. Flight tests of SpaceShipTwo have not been completed - the suborbital vehicle has not yet climbed to 100 km, and the problems with the engine that were discovered may still not be resolved. New Shepard has already overtaken SpaceShipTwo in readiness. Second, New Shepard is safer than SpaceShipTwo. Back in 2012, an emergency rescue system was tested, which, together with the standard landing system, ensures the rescue of passengers at all stages of the flight:

On SpaceShipTwo there are no rescue systems that would be able to help passengers in the destruction of the apparatus, which was clearly shown by the disaster of 2014. If the flight in New Shepard is carried out in high-altitude suits that can protect against depressurization, then flight safety will reach the level of that in Soyuz. But already now, if I had an extra one hundred thousand dollars and a desire to make a suborbital flight, then I would definitely choose New Shepard.

New Shepard's success: reusable carrier and suborbital tourism

Rest on the paradise islands and city excursions will surprise no one. Therefore, the travel industry is looking for new opportunities to entertain travel lovers. This year they are promised to be launched into space, delivered to the sunken "Titanic" and sent on a tour in a submarine.

Mission to Titanic

In the summer of 2019, Ocean Gate will send tourists to the legendary Titanic, which sank in the Atlantic 107 years ago, killing 1,496 people (712 escaped).

The cost of participation in the tour is 125 thousand US dollars per person, which, taking into account inflation, is actually equivalent to the cost of travel in the first class of the Titanic (4 350 dollars). For this money, tourists are promised to participate in at least one dive to the wreckage of the ship to a depth of 3800 meters, where they can see the outline of the deck and the famous staircase. In addition, "civilians" will be able to actively help the dive team in the maintenance of the underwater vehicle, dive planning, navigation. Throughout the trip, experts will talk about the history of the Titanic and its sinking.

On the way to the crash site, all members of the mission will undergo a special briefing - they will be taught the basics of diving on a submarine, the rules of behavior in emergency situations, as well as safe movement between ships at sea. Inspection of the territory where the remains of the ship and the belongings of passengers are located will be carried out in compliance with all international standards - after all, it has been taken under the protection of UNESCO. In 2019, 6 missions are planned, but only one of them remained free for tourists. In 2020, there is still a choice.

The world's first submarine tour Mysteries of the Deep kicks off in Spring 2019. For 42 thousand dollars, tourists will make 10 dives on the Triton 1000/2 submarine. The crew, consisting of travelers and Oxford scientists, will descend to a depth of 305 meters in the Indian Ocean - near the coral island of Aldabra, for which special permission was obtained from the authorities of the Seychelles.

Into Space with Elon Musk

Several American aerospace companies have announced that they are ready to send tourists into space in 2019. So, Blue Origin, owned by the famous billionaire and Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, has developed a New Shepard rocket with a detachable manned capsule designed for six people. It will raise tourists to an altitude of 80 to 100 km - the conditional border between the atmosphere and space. The entire suborbital flight will take 11 minutes, 4 of which passengers will spend in zero gravity.

Recall that in 2014 the ship of the previous version crashed during a test flight, one pilot was killed. Since then, the spacecraft has been improved, and Branson himself intends to take it into space. At the end of 2018, he said that this is "a matter of the coming months."

Another billionaire, businessman, inventor and head of SpaceX Elon Musk decided to go even further and send tourists on a trip around the Moon and to Mars. Space travelers will orbit Earth's satellite aboard the Dragon-2 spacecraft, which will be launched by a Falcon Heavy rocket. The lunar tour will take a week, and the first ticket has already been bought by Japanese businessman Yusaku Maezawa. The sensational trip was supposed to take place last year, but for technical reasons it was postponed to 2019. Elon Musk also dreams of colonizing Mars and intends to deliver the first passenger there by 2026.

In the footsteps of Gagarin

Russia is also ready to present an exclusive program of space excursions. To this end, on the basis of Skolkovo, the CosmoCourse company is developing a reusable suborbital space complex. The first flight is scheduled for 2025, but it will be longer and higher than the Americans are proposing.

Commercial suborbital manned launches are a new kind of business. And the engineering problem of creating a suborbital vehicle can be solved in different ways. In the 2000s, there was a lot of talk about Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipOne/Two, which implemented an "airplane" approach. But the disaster of 2014 threw this project away for years - the construction of the second device ended in 2016, and it still has not begun flight tests. Meanwhile, Blue Origin with the New Shepard reusable system, despite the fact that they also had accidents, broke into the leaders of suborbital tourism, implementing a "space" approach - its manned capsule was tested according to the standards of full-fledged spacecraft. And successful tests of the rescue system in the area of ​​maximum velocity head means that New Shepard is also the safest system of all competitors. And what tests were their spacecraft subjected to?

Alas, Blue Origin did not advertise every step, and quite a significant part of the tests has not been published. The first video of the tests of the rescue system for the case of an accident at the start appeared in 2013. Pad Abort Test. In this case, the emergency rescue system (SAS) engine is turned on when the capsule without the launch vehicle is at ground level.

This test is the standard test for spacecraft equipped with a rescue system. You can find a video of the tests of the "Mercury" in 1960.

Photos from the Apollo test

Vostok and Gemini had other rescue systems. And for the Soyuz spacecraft there is a unique footage of the rescue of the Soyuz T-10-1 cosmonauts from a rocket engulfed in fire (from 2:50)

Modern capsules also boast beautiful videos. Here is Orion.

On SpaceX's manned version of the Dragon spacecraft, the engines were placed differently, but the principle of operation is still the same - to quickly move the ship with people away from the disaster launch vehicle.

Why did I write that a significant portion of the New Shepard trials have not been published? Because parachute tests begin with throw tests, when a mock capsule is dropped from an airplane or helicopter and tries to make a regular landing. Naturally, this does not always work out the first time. For example, a complete failure of the parachute system during the Orion tests.

But in 2013, Orion was able to land normally when, during testing, one (of two) pilot parachute and one (of three) main parachute were deliberately denied.

New Shepard must have thrown that way too. But this summer, Blue Origin decided to combine testing the parachute system with a real launch. For the test, one (out of three) pilot parachute and one (out of three) main parachute were blocked.

The three main parachute scheme is good in that it not only calmly survives the failure of one parachute, but also allows it to survive if two parachutes fail. In reality, there was a case of failure of one parachute on Apollo 15, while the astronauts successfully splashed down without injury.

And on New Shepard, which lands on land, the landing is softened by a soft-landing engine (like on Soyuz) and crumpled shock-absorbing panels.

Popular science about space and astronomy

On November 23, a test unmanned launch of the New Shepard complex, a single-stage launch vehicle and spacecraft for suborbital space tourism, took place. The capsule reached an altitude of 100.5 km and successfully landed by parachute. For the first time, a launch vehicle made a successful landing on engines:

Success did not come immediately - during the first test launch on April 29, 2015, an altitude of 93.5 km was reached, but the rocket crashed due to a loss of pressure in the hydraulic system.

If you dig a little deeper, the main surprise for New Shepard is the engine. In fact, by 2015, the startup managed to create a restartable throttled engine BE-3 on a pair of "hydrogen-oxygen" with a thrust of 1 to 50 tons. The engine did not appear right away - the engineers trained "on crampons", having developed the BE-1 and BE-2 engines on hydrogen peroxide, but the result is still impressive.

Wide range restart and throttling capability means this engine will be very useful in the upper stages of space rockets. And the use of a hydrogen-oxygen fuel pair, which has the maximum specific impulse, means that the BE-3 will be very effective in this role. Yes, the fact that an open circuit with a phase change is used means that the specific impulse will be below the maximum possible 450 seconds (the exact value of the specific impulse BE-3 is not published in open sources), but open circuit motors are simpler and cheaper, which is important for a private space company. Theoretically, based on the first stage of New Shepard, it is already possible to create a light launch vehicle that would launch several hundred kilograms into low orbit. But Blue Origin's plans are more ambitious - now a BE-4 engine on a methane-oxygen fuel pair with a thrust of 250 tons is being developed. With such an engine, it will be possible to create a medium-class launch vehicle with a payload in the region of 8 tons to low-earth orbit. It is assumed that the first stage of this rocket will also be reusable.

An article appeared on Geektimes, in which it was argued that comparing New Shepard and Falcon 9 is incorrect, they say, what Bezos achieved, Musk did for a long time on Grasshopper. I do not agree. Yes, the New Shepard is smaller, shorter and lighter than the first stage of the Falcon 9 and does not place a payload into orbit. But both stages return from suborbital flight and make precision landings in a limited area, and the Grasshopper was a test bench that did not restart the engine or climb more than a kilometer. If we talk about the complexity of the task, then no one forced Musk to experiment with landing a medium-class launch vehicle at once, especially since he started with a light Falcon 1 rocket. Also, both rockets should test in practice the economic benefits (or lack thereof) of reusable launch vehicles, so their comparison, despite the difference in tasks, is correct. Knowing the negative experiences of mankind with the Space Shuttle made me a skeptic about reusable launch vehicles. But now that we have two potentially reusable launch vehicles, especially in different classes, it is very interesting to look at their test of time. Let me remind you that we will be able to learn about the economic efficiency (or lack thereof) of reusable rockets years after the start of their serial operation, which neither SpaceX nor Blue Origin have been able to achieve so far. But we are witnessing an interesting experiment - the fact that the Falcon 9 is a mid-range rocket, and the New Shepard is a geophysical (suborbital) one allows us to look at the scalability of a reusable scheme. It may be that the complexity and cost of maintaining a reusable system will plummet with decreasing size, in which case New Shepard is best placed to be economically successful.

Compared to the success of Blue Origin with SpaceX, it turned out that Bezos has become a very dangerous competitor in the field of suborbital space tourism, where in previous years everyone had talked about Richard Branson with SpaceShipTwo. And the success of Blue Origin clearly showed that the New Shepard design is better in several ways. Firstly, Blue Origin is capable of testing a new stage six months after the accident of the launch vehicle. After the SpaceShipTwo disaster, the second flight prototype, under construction since 2012, is still not flying. Flight tests of SpaceShipTwo have not been completed - the suborbital vehicle has not yet climbed to 100 km, and the problems with the engine that were discovered may still not be resolved. New Shepard has already overtaken SpaceShipTwo in readiness. second, New Shepard is safer than SpaceShipTwo. Back in 2012, an emergency rescue system was tested, which, together with the standard landing system, ensures the rescue of passengers at all stages of the flight:

On SpaceShipTwo there are no rescue systems that would be able to help passengers in the destruction of the apparatus, which was clearly shown by the disaster of 2014. If the flight in New Shepard is carried out in high-altitude suits that can protect against depressurization, then flight safety will reach the level of that in Soyuz. But already now, if I had an extra one hundred thousand dollars and a desire to make a suborbital flight, then I would definitely choose New Shepard.

There is some irony in the fact that a company that is not particularly chasing PR has managed to develop a very promising design and, in fact, bypassed two companies that do not leave the news feeds. Blue Origin's motto "step by step, mercilessly" comes to life in an amazing way.

Popular science about space and astronomy

Two competitors, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, have finally hit the home stretch - both companies have moved on to regular testing. On May 29, the second flight took place with the inclusion of the engine of the SpaceShipTwo from Virgin Galactic, and on July 18, the ninth New Shepard test flight from Blue Origin took place. The exact dates have not yet been published by any of the companies, but if events continue to develop at the same speed, then less than a year remains before the first suborbital tourist flight.

New Shepard

New Shepard test flight, starting at 35 minutes

Blue Origin made its ninth flight on July 18. The thoroughness of their test program commands respect - in previous launches, they checked the failure of one of the parachutes and tested the rescue system on an accelerating rocket. Earlier, the rescue system was tested in an accident scenario at the launch site. This time it was tested the same, but in the scenario of operation after separation from the carrier rocket. This is a new type of tests in the history of astronautics - on existing and historical orbital ships, the rescue system is dropped at an altitude of several tens of kilometers, a few minutes before separation from the upper stage of the launch vehicle. It is not so easy to come up with an accident scenario for which you would have to turn on the rescue system when the capsule flies by inertia - the only reasonable option seems to be the case when, after separation, the rocket's engine unauthorizedly turns on again and it threatens to hit the capsule with passengers. Due to the fact that the engine turned on at altitude, the test was less spectacular, but, most importantly, successful - the engines of the rescue system took the capsule away from the rocket. At the same time, both the capsule and the rocket made a safe landing and are ready for reuse.

For some time now, passing payloads have been transported to New Shepard. Several minutes of weightlessness are an order of magnitude more

30 seconds on an airplane flying laboratory, and this may be enough for a scientific experiment or testing a new device. This is the second time that a technology demonstrator has flown in the capsule, a technology demonstrator from Solstar, which is set to become the first space-based Internet provider, selling Internet access to satellites and astronauts. In the past, eighth, flight, the device successfully posted a tweet, which the company called "the first commercial tweet from space", now tested a new antenna and successfully posted a second tweet.

What a view of Planet Earth. Brought to you live from Space - this tweet from Solstar's Space Communicator on board #NewShepard! Connecting People and Things in Space to Earth #WiFiInSpace

Speaking seriously, the replacement of special equipment for communication with satellites for the Internet we are used to should seriously simplify the work with satellites from the Earth.

Also, the second time in the capsule flew equipment from the Space Center. Johnson NASA SFEM-2 for measuring flight parameters - acceleration, pressure, temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide levels and acoustic loads. The data obtained will make it possible to determine which new payloads are suitable for the conditions in the descent vehicle.

And for more demanding loads, a vibration isolation platform from Controlled Dynamics was tested in flight, which can both isolate loads from vibrations and create the special conditions required for the experiment.

There were also two scientific installations from universities on board, studying the behavior of liquid in pipes and the electromagnetic field inside the capsule.

SpaceShipTwo

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