Blue Origin to the edge of space
Blue Origin’s New Shepherd spaceship flew for the first time this Wednesday, April 29, from their range in the West Texas desert (two hours east of El Paso). This is the world’s only privately owned and operated launch site.
The spaceship sat there like a giant phallic symbol jutting up from the desert floor (You tell me! Am I wrong?). Then it rode a pencil of flame at mach 3 almost to the edge of space 58 miles up.
It’s payload parachuted back to earth and landed gently, apparently right where they wanted it to come down. The company website says, “Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return.” The capsule holds six.
The ship is supposed to be reusable, but there was a problem with hydraulics. It was not shown, but presumably it crashed. SpaceX had a similar problem with their early rockets.
No true edge of space
There is no true edge of space. The atmosphere just keeps on getting thinner until it’s as thin as the tenuous gas between the planets, but 60 miles is usually considered the edge of space. For practical purposes, it’s a good round number for a test rocket to aim for; and 58 is close enough for a first test.
Blue Origin, run by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, hopes to carry passengers on suborbital flights within two years. It’s important to remember how many other companies have failed at this, of course.
Australian space company didn’t make it
I remember an Australian company was going to be carrying paying passengers to orbit in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary Columbus “discovering” America. It didn’t happen. But a lot has happened in the industry in the 23 years since 1992, and somebody is going to do it soon. Maybe Blue Origin.
American space industry is coming along
SpaceX was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars. It is the company that has serviced the ISS a few times and gets most of the press. But Blue Origin is beginning to look impressive with this test shot.
Since the space shuttle was decommissioned in 2011, the United States has been dependent on foreign governments and private industry to get spaceships, astronauts, supplies, and satellites into space. The fledgling American space industry has not yet come into its own, but it’s coming along.
Companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX are seeing to it.