New From Blue

Just breaking via Twitter:

I must admit to a little bit of hero-worship for this guy: he made his fortune by giving people what they want via Amazon, and is using that fortune to build what he really wants. Not to mention that Kindle Direct almost single-handedly enabled my burgeoning writing career (as did Elon Musk to a barely lesser degree, who initially financed SpaceX with the money he made from selling PayPal). To have these two in competition is going to do more for our expansion into the solar system than anything since Apollo (which sadly didn’t do much in the long term). And I do kind of prefer Blue’s “open ended” approach to SpaceX’s “Occupy Mars” guiding philosophy – that is, we’ll build the vehicles. Someone else can buy them and send them wherever they want.

Ignoring Popular Science’s childish penis-envy headline, Mr. Bezos is engaging in a bit of a blocking play: SpaceX has been touting the Big Reveal of their Mars vehicle architecture later this month. That’s twice now where Bezos has stolen his thunder, so it’ll be telling to see Musk’s response as he wasn’t especially gracious about New Shepard’s first landing.

Much more at Ars Technica and The Verge, but I’ll note this from the Ars piece:

And this may just be the beginning. When Ars visited with Bezos earlier this year, the Amazon.com founder said, “Our first orbital vehicle will not be our last, and it will be the smallest orbital vehicle we will ever build.” Indeed, in his e-mail sent Monday, Bezos teased just this, writing “New Glenn is a very important step. It won’t be the last of course. Up next on our drawing board: New Armstrong. But that’s a story for the future.”

That Escalated Quickly

Blue Origin finally lifted the curtains late yesterday:

This has taken a lot of industry observers by surprise as most of the reliable space news sites haven’t even picked up on it yet. They’ve been very secretive and now we can see why: when not busy running the worldwide juggernaut that is Amazon, Jeff Bezos has been building his own personal space program. What’s amazing to me is just how close to the vest he’s been able to play this: they’d announced test flights would start this year, but danged if they didn’t go and start with an all-up test of the full vehicle all the way to space.

The difference between their approach and that of the better-known Virgin Galactic is clear, and it goes beyond vehicle design. Bezos waited until he was satisfied they were ready to put on a real show with close-to-operational hardware instead of stringing people along and taking their money during the unpredictable development process. This is in stark contrast to Virgin, who Doug Messier reports is still flagellating over their final choice for an engine.

This is also a useful lesson in how the very wealthy go about creating entire industries that no one could have anticipated. After revolutionizing commerce and publishing with Amazon, Bezos used that wealth to pursue his real passion and is applying similar foresight to opening up space for the rest of us. History will regard men like him and Elon Musk in the same way we look back at Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford.

If you want more, Blue Origin’s formerly bare-bones website is now updated with lots of cool videos and other imagery, so head over there to service your nerdboner. Because cool as it is, there’s no getting around that it looks like a flying…

Out of the Blue

BE-3 test fire. Credit: Blue Origin

Infamously close-mouthed Blue Origin (the Jeff Bezos company that’s not named Amazon) announced a successful full-mission-profile test of their BE3 rocket engine:

Blue Origin, the commercial space company bankrolled by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, plans to begin unmanned orbital flight tests of its biconic-shape human capsule in 2018. Ultimately, the company will use an orbital launch vehicle powered at least in part by a clean-sheet cryogenic engine it now has demonstrated can support suborbital human spaceflight.

But wait! There’s more:

The characteristically secretive Kent, Wash.-based startup unveiled new details about the BE-3 Dec. 3 in a rare and unusually informative question-and-answer session with Rob Meyerson, president and program manager…

In the test, the engine ran for 145 sec. at full throttle, then shut down for 4.5 min. to simulate the coasting phase that will take New Shepard out of the atmosphere. This was followed by a restart and throttle-down to the 25,000-lb.-thrust level it will need to bring the reusable booster back to Earth for a tail-down landing while the capsule parachutes home…

Work building up to the full-cycle BE-3 test in November was conducted over nine months and included 160 starts and 9,100 sec. of engine operation. “That equates to a test every two days, and sometimes actually three or four tests per day,” says Meyerson.

So yeah, they’ve been kinda busy. Can’t say I blame them for keeping a tight lid on things because it certainly makes announcements like this a little more attention-grabbing.

Blue Origin family portrait. Keep the dildo jokes to yourselves, pervs.

NewSpace is a great example of the good that comes from free markets: men who’ve already made substantial fortunes through internet innovations then plow those profits into the things they’re most passionate about. In turn, they will create entire new industries and expand our economy into the solar system. This is a multi-decade process with an entirely unknown end state, but I believe it’s key to preserving our Republic (not to mention a national intervention to rehab our crack-addled Uncle Sam).

Not because space exploration is inspiring, adventurous, unique, or dangerous (though it is all of those). It’s because the only thing humans can create from nothing is wealth. The ugly truth is we need the money, because that $17,000,000,000,000+ debt is an enormous overhang on our economy. And it isn’t going away anytime soon.

You know who got rich off of the gold rush? Certainly not the prospectors who gave up everything to pan for precious metals in the mountain West. Nope, it was all of the store owners and hoteliers and railroad men who showed up to provide all the stuff they needed. Infrastructure follows development, not the other way around.

Free people making their way in a previously untapped frontier will lead to all sorts of unexpected opportunities. Just watch and learn from these baby steps.