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Blue Origin will start live-streaming spaceflights

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Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship lifts off for a test in January. (Credit: Blue Origin)

For his next trick, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos plans to have his Blue Origin space venture send its New Shepard rocket ship into outer space and back with one bum parachute on Friday – and live-stream the whole thing.

Allowing live video of a rocket launch and landing is old hat for the likes of rival billionaire Elon Musk and his company, SpaceX, but Blue Origin has never done it before. Bezos’ announcement indicates that the once-secretive company is becoming more comfortable sharing its accomplishments with the public as they happen.

Friday will mark the fourth go-around for this particular New Shepard suborbital vehicle at Blue Origin’s West Texas testing ground. The first suborbital flight test was done last November, followed by similarly successful outings in January and April. Each time, a booster powered by Blue Origin’s hydrogen-fueled BE-3 rocket engine sent an uncrewed space capsule to a height beyond 62 miles, the internationally accepted boundary of outer space.

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Jeff Bezos: Next spaceflight will include flaw

Image: New Shepard with parachutes
Blue Origin’s New Shepard crew capsule descends on the end of its parachute system during an uncrewed test flight in April 2015. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos predicts there’ll be a problem with a parachute the next time his Blue Origin venture flies its uncrewed New Shepard spaceship. He’ll make sure of it.

Flying with a bad parachute is part of Blue Origin’s plan to test the suborbital craft under stressful conditions, in preparation for flying passengers to the edge of outer space in as little as two years.

In today’s email update, Bezos said he and the rest of the team were “finishing our mission planning for another flight of New Shepard, which will be our fourth flight with this vehicle.”

The New Shepard propulsion module and crew capsule went through successful flights to space and vertical landings in November, January and April at Blue Origin’s West Texas launch facility. During last month’s test outing, the propulsion module didn’t relight its hydrogen-powered BE-3 rocket engine until just seconds before what would have been a crash landing. New Shepard made a soft touchdown nevertheless.

“On this next mission, we’ll execute additional maneuvers on both the crew capsule and the booster to increase our vehicle characterization and modeling accuracy,” Bezos wrote.

“We also plan to stress the crew capsule by landing with an intentionally failed parachute, demonstrating our ability to safely handle that failure scenario,” he continued. “It promises to be an exciting demonstration.”

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Blue Origin and SpaceX revisit rocket landings

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A view from the “vent cam” on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital booster shows a West Texas landscape during an April 2 flight, plus a “toasty brown” ring fin at the top. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Will seeing a spaceship land on its feet ever get old? The novelty is still there in newly released videos from Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, showing new perspectives on their most recent rocket landings.

Blue Origin’s video recaps the April 2 flight of its New Shepard suborbital space vehicle, as seen from a camera pointing out from one of the booster’s vents. The 2:38 clip begins with a shot of the curving blue Earth below the blackness of space – a view that paying passengers could see as early as 2018.

Then there’s the supersonic descent back through the atmosphere. If you look closely at the full-frame, high-definition video, you might be able to pick out the Rio Grande River running through the West Texas landscape surrounding Blue Origin’s launch and landing site.

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Get a drone’s-eye view of Blue Origin spaceflight

Saturday’s test flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship marked lots of milestones, including the first time a drone captured video of its launch from above.

Those kinds of views have long been provided by SpaceX, one of Blue Origin’s rivals in the reusable rocket business, and they’re thrilling. The video that Blue Origin founder (and Amazon billionaire) Jeff Bezos shared today is in the same category – right down to the rockin’ soundtrack.

“We pushed the envelope on this flight, restarting the engine for the propulsive landing only 3,600 feet above the ground, requiring the BE-3 engine to start fast and ramp to high thrust fast,” Bezos said in a blog post accompanying the video.

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Jeff Bezos live-tweets Blue Origin spaceship test

Image: New Shepard landing
Blue Origin’s New Shepard fires its BE-4 rocket engine for a vertical landing. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos served as launch commentator for a risky but successful third flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship to space and back on April 2. He even worked in a reference to his lucky cowboy boots.

The 11-minute-long suborbital mission not only featured the first ride for university research payloads, but also a quick restart of the propulsion module’s hydrogen-fueled BE-3 rocket engine, just seconds before what would have been a crash.

That maneuver was aimed at “pushing the envelope” for the uncrewed New Shepard’s performance, Bezos said on the eve of the flight. Blue Origin reported that the restart was executed successfully at an altitude of 3,635 feet, as planned.

The running commentary on Twitter marked yet another role for the 52-year-old Bezos, who founded Blue Origin back in 2000 to follow through on his childhood dream of spaceflight. New Shepard is named after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, who became the first American in outer space three years before Bezos was born.

Bezos traced the preparation of the crew capsule (CC) for launch from Blue Origin’s test facility in West Texas, then the liftoff, then the status of the propulsion booster and crew capsule after the two parts of the spacecraft separated on cue.

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Jeff Bezos counts down to Blue Origin launch

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Workers prepare Blue Origin’s rocket ship for a test flight. (Credit: Jeff Bezos via Twitter)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos says his Blue Origin rocket venture will put its New Shepard suborbital spaceship to its sternest test to date: a flight that involves a quick restart of the craft’s rocket engine just six seconds before projected impact.

If the restart doesn’t work on April 2, the third flight of the reusable New Shepard will end with a fiery splat.

The mere fact of Bezos’ announcement is almost as remarkable as the flight plan.

Previously, he might have said in advance that a flight would happen “very soon,” or the timing could have been figured out by checking the required notice from the Federal Aviation Administration. But the April 1 tweets represent the first time Bezos has publicly specified the date of a Blue Origin test flight in advance. (No fooling!)

Bezos is promising that there’ll be drone footage of the test. And two research experiments will be packed aboard for the trip to outer space. That marks another first for Blue Origin’s suborbital space effort.

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Jeff Bezos opens up Blue Origin rocket factory

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Billionaire Jeff Bezos stands beside the copper nozzle for a BE-4 rocket engine at Blue Origin’s production facility in Kent, Wash., while journalists snap pictures. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

KENT, Wash. – For the first time, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos guided a pack of journalists around his Blue Origin rocket factory today and showed off hardware that could send people on suborbital rides to outer space as early as next year.

The billionaire tech entrepreneur also laid out a vision for space commercialization that stretches out for hundreds of years, leading to an era when millions of people would be living and working in space.

“I think space is chock full of resources,” Bezos told reporters. “This is all my view, and I’ll be dead before I’m proved wrong, so it’s a very safe prediction to make. But my view is that there will be a ‘Great Inversion.’”

Today, huge industrial complexes on Earth build components that are sent into space, at a cost of thousands of dollars per pound. Bezos foresees an inversion in that flow of goods. “We’ll make the microprocessors in space, and then we’ll send the little tiny bits to Earth,” Bezos said.

In the long term, Blue Origin could set the stage for moving heavy industries completely off Earth, leaving our planet zoned strictly for “residential and light industrial” use.

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Blue Origin repeats launch-and-landing feat

Image: Blue Origin landing
Blue Origin’s New Shepard propulsion module fires its rocket engines for a soft landing. It marked the second trip to space and touchdown for the same prototype vehicle. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture sent up its New Shepard suborbital spaceship on another flight test to outer-space altitudes today, and brought it back to a safe landing.

The uncrewed flight at Bezos’ West Texas test facility arguably marks the first time that a reusable rocket designed for a vertical landing proved to be actually reusable for space missions.

There are caveats to that claim, to be sure: The SpaceShipOne rocket plane, the X-15 and NASA’s space shuttles have all demonstrated reusability after going into space. Those craft landed horizontally, like an airplane, rather than vertically. In addition, test rockets flown by the DC-X program as well as Masten Space Systems, Armadillo Aerospace and SpaceX have been reused after taking vertical hops. However, those rockets stuck to altltudes below 100 kilometers (62 miles), the internationally accepted boundary of outer space.

Despite all the caveats, Blue Origin’s feat marks a significant step toward flying reusable rocket ships on suborbital space trips on a commercial basis, for tourism as well as for research.

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Watch Blue Origin’s rocket scientists get happy

“Touchdown” means something different to rocket scientists and to football fans, but the cheering, hugs and high fives are the same – as revealed today in a Blue Origin video.

The video shows how the Nov. 23 landing of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spacecraft played out, as seen from four perspectives. Two views showed how the autonomous landing went down at the company’s test range in West Texas. The other two views showed the reaction of Blue Origin employees who gathered at the company’s headquarters in Kent, Wash.

Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Blue Origin as well as the better-known Amazon online commerce venture, touted the video in the third tweet he’s ever posted.

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Jeff Bezos spaces out: ‘I can’t wait to go!’

Image: Jeff Bezos and champagne
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, sprays champagne from a bottle after the successful landing of the New Shepard rocket booster on Monday. (Credit: Blue Origin via YouTube)

Amazon’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, says watching his Blue Origin rocket make a safe landing after flying into space rates as one of the greatest moments of his life, and he can’t wait to take a ride himself.

In an exclusive GeekWire interview, conducted on the morning after the New Shepard test mission, Bezos answered questions about what the flight means for Blue Origin, the space venture he founded … why he waited so long to start tweeting … and when the rest of us will get a suborbital space ride. He also stirred the pot in his rivalry with that other billionaire space geek, SpaceX founder Elon Musk.

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