Have you ever dreamed of going into space? Blue Origin, the commercial space company, will soon be offering you the opportunity to become an astronaut.The following is a brief history of Blue Origin to put in context the historic advent of commercial space tourism.
Just imagine looking out the window of your space capsule to see the Earth’s green land and blue waters, all surrounded by the swirl of white clouds. In every other direction that you look, your eyes will rest on the vast expanse of suborbital space.
If you find that incredible scene difficult to picture with your mind’s eye, just wait. You may have your very own opportunity to experience space travel. Yes, aerospace company Blue Origin wants to take you into space.
Jeff Bezos’s Space Tourism Goals
Since space travel began, fewer than 600 individuals have had the privilege of going into space. For several decades, American children have grown up with aspirations of joining NASA and being selected as a member of a launch team. It’s a dream that very few people have had the opportunity to realize, however.
If Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has his way, that exclusivity is about to change. Bezos’s Blue Origin spaceflight company has dreams of offering space tourism trips, in which regular people will receive the opportunity to enter suborbital space.
Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, Bezos was fascinated by outer space, technology, entrepreneurialism, and computer science. He channeled those lifelong interests into Blue Origin, which he founded in 2000.
To begin with, Bezos’s team kept the company’s work mostly under wraps. Pretty much all of the information that the media and the public gathered about his venture came from documentation filed with government agencies, such as NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Speaking of NASA, Blue Origin does not stand in competition with the government-run space program. NASA has much to gain from the private development of space travel, and NASA’s Commercial Crew Development program has supplied millions of dollars in funding to this private company over the years. Much of the additional capital for the venture has come from Bezos’ own Amazon fortune.
What is Bezos’s goal? What has motivated him to spend his personal wealth on the pursuit of space tourism? Bezos wants to fuel the development of affordable space travel through the use of reusable components. He also wants to see the fulfillment of a long-held dream: humans dwelling in space.
With those ambitions in mind, Blue Origin has progressed with its work, and the plans are no longer such a tightly kept secret. By 2010, the public started to learn more about the company’s projects. These days, Blue Origin announces its major accomplishments, and members of the general public can browse its website as they dream of a day when they can hop aboard a craft for a trip to space.
What Space Tourism Will Look Like
When flights are open to the public, six passengers at a time will enter a capsule atop a rocket. Strapping in for the launch is a must because the rocket will blast with an acceleration that is three times the force of gravity. Once the rocket reaches its maximum speed, it will be traveling faster than Mach 3.
After the booster rocket propels the capsule to suborbital levels, the two portions will separate. While the rocket returns to Earth, the capsule will remain in space for a bit. Passengers will have the freedom to unbuckle their straps so they can fully enjoy the experience. Weightlessness will allow them to float and tumble throughout the capsule. Enormous 42.7-inch windows will provide breathtaking views, and no one will have to crowd in for a spot to see out.
To finish the journey, as the capsule re-enters the atmosphere, three parachutes will deploy. Passengers can take comfort in the fact that there are three; that’s more than necessary, but it’s a safety measure in case one malfunctions. In addition to the parachutes, the capsule will be equipped with a retro thrust system, which will provide a reasonably smooth landing as the vessel settles on solid land.
Your Vessel for Space Travel: New Shepard
The craft that Bezos’s company will use for space tourism is New Shepard, named for astronaut Alan Shepard. He made history for a suborbital flight, and suborbital flight is exactly what the New Shepard mission is designed for.
The New Shepard mission involves propelling a pressurized capsule to suborbital heights with the power of a reusable booster. In fact, both the crew capsule and the booster rocket are reusable, a feature that should help to reduce the cost of space travel.
Paired together, the two components lift vertically from the ground. The BE-3 engine delivers 110,000 pounds of thrust. After liftoff, the booster rocket and crew capsule stay together for about 2.5 minutes.
After separation, the booster begins its return to Earth with a freefall until an automated system kicks into gear to guide the booster the rest of the way down. Ring, wedge, and aft fins provide control, stability, and steering. A group of eight drag brakes cut the rocket’s velocity in half. After that, the same engine that propelled the booster and capsule into space kicks back into gear. During the landing process, the engine’s role is to maintain a gentle 5 mph speed as the unit returns to solid ground.
When the booster rocket finally touches down, it lands in a vertical position, safely preserving its structure for another go-round. In fact, this is known as a VTVL booster, which stands for “vertical takeoff, vertical landing.”
While the booster is returning to the Earth, the capsule remains in suborbital space for a short time. At its apogee, the crew capsule is higher than the Kármán Line, the boundary between the atmosphere and outer space, which is about 62 miles above the planet. The capsule’s free flight gives passengers a few minutes to enjoy the experience of space travel. When it is time to descend, the capsule relies on its parachute system to deliver it safely to the ground. Altogether, a trip in the crew capsule of New Shepard is about 11 minutes long.
Is the New Shepard mission safe for people? The brains behind Blue Origin have done their best to ensure that it is. They have built New Shepard with an escape system in case something ever goes wrong. With the “full-envelope” escape system, the capsule will not only separate from the booster but also move a safe distance away from it. The separation can be manually initiated by Mission Control personnel, or it can be automatically triggered by sensor readings in the booster or the capsule. Once initiated, a rocket engine with 70,000 pounds of thrust will propel the capsule away from the booster. After the capsule has escaped to a safe position, its parachutes will deploy in order to deliver the occupants safely to land.
The New Shepard mission isn’t just for people. It can also carry payloads of up to at least 50 pounds. The plan for frequent flight schedules and a relatively low cost provides an opportunity for research teams to send scientific materials into space. Although only materials can currently travel aboard New Shepard, for even more research opportunities, scientists will one day be able to travel into space with their payloads.
Steps to Space Tourism
What driving theme pushes Blue Origin towards new developments in space travel? Blue Origin’s motto is “Gradatim Ferociter.” It sounds powerful, but if you don’t speak Latin, you probably don’t know what it means. “Gradatim Ferociter” is translated “Step by Step, Ferociously.”
According to Jeff Bezos, because Blue Origin is serious about getting to space, the team works tirelessly in ferocious pursuit of that goal. However, his crew doesn’t skip steps for the sake of speed. Their approach is systematic and methodical; they know that every step along the way is important. They believe those steps will add up to success sooner than a rush job ever could.
In preparation for sending live humans on one of its vessels, Blue Origin launched a mannequin to suborbital levels in December 2017. Mannequin Skywalker, as the pretend human is known, was strapped into a seat for the duration of the 11-minute trip. To give interested parties a sense of what a trip aboard its craft would be like, Blue Origin released a video of Mannequin Skywalker’s adventure. Of course, humans would have an additional treat that the mannequin didn’t get to enjoy: unbuckling in order to experience the weightlessness of space.
How soon might you be able to sign up as a space-tourism participant? In late 2017, CEO Bob Smith announced that Blue Origin would begin taking passengers into space by April 2019. This is a shift from a declaration that company President Rob Meyerson made at the 2016 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight, where he remarked that Blue Origin would be “starting commercial flights in 2018.” Despite this apparent change to the timeline, company representatives say that they are right on track with their plan.
To take a trip with Blue Origin, you won’t have to be an astronaut with specialty training. The company is planning to take regular people on these spaceflights. For the best experience, however, you will want to get your body ready for the trip. To start preparing yourself now for the adventure of space travel, get started with an iTrainer personal trainer and follow an iTrainer Astronaut Flight Training for Blue Origin New Shepherd mission program.
What to Expect When You Go to Space
If your mind has started racing at the possibility of what might happen if you board New Shepard to take a suborbital flight, you may be wondering what to expect when you someday arrive on the Blue Origin campus in Texas.
You’ll show up two days before the launch. The site’s remote location in West Texas is ideal for leaving behind the outside world and focusing your attention on the adventure to come.
Unlike a professional astronaut, your training will last only one day. You’ll spend the day before launch learning everything that you need to know about taking a trip through space. You and your fellow passengers will learn about procedures and safety for the mission. You’ll get to know the spacecraft and experience simulations. Be sure to pay close attention since you’ll be receiving directions about what responsibilities will be expected of you on the trip. Plus, you’ll surely want to hear what they have to say about how to handle yourself in the weightless environment of space.
Does the idea of having only one day of training make you nervous? Although you’ll surely be in good hands with the Blue Origin team, you can increase your preparedness by turning to iTrainer for exercise routines that will give you a strong, healthy body that’s ready for space travel.
On the morning of the big day, you’ll head to the launch site. About half an hour before blast-off, the Blue Origin team will clear the vessel for take-off and you’ll climb the platform and enter the capsule. You’ll sit down, buckle in, and wait for the countdown to begin.
When it’s time to go, your vessel will blast off of solid ground, and you’ll find out what it is like to travel at 3 Gs. That part of the journey will last around 2.5 minutes.
When the acceleration ends and the capsule separates from the booster, you’ll notice the quietness of space. When you unbuckle, you’ll also get a chance to experience another amazing thing about outer space: weightlessness. Because the capsule will have crossed the Kármán Line, you’ll be free of the Earth’s atmosphere and unconstrained by gravity.
Although you might be tempted to remain in outer space forever, you will eventually have to return to land. When the signal indicates that it is time, you will sit back down and prepare for reentry into the atmosphere. If the 3 Gs at the beginning of the flight were impressive, the 5 Gs of reentry will be even more so. But then the parachutes and thrusters will engage, and you’ll land gently on the ground.
Does the thought of this adventure excite you? Prepare for a trip to outer space with an iTrainer workout routine that will get your body in peak shape.
On the Horizon for Blue Origin: New Glenn and New Armstrong
This spaceflight company is not satisfied with the idea of staying limited to suborbital space travel. Another important part of the plans is New Glenn, a craft designed for propulsion into Earth orbit.
Just as the New Shepard mission is named for the first person who entered suborbital space, the New Glenn mission is named for John Glenn, the first person to travel on an orbital spacecraft.
Announced to the public in September 2016, New Glenn will be powered by BE-4 engines and will come in 2- and 3-stage varieties, both of which will be capable of traveling into orbit. For trips into low earth orbit, 2-stage New Glenn will be capable of transporting up to 45 metric tons of weight. For geostationary orbit trips, it will carry up to 13 metric tons. Weight limits for the 3-stage version have not yet been published.
Similar to New Shepard, New Glenn boasts reusability. The first stage will return to Earth after launch so that it can be reused repeatedly, and Blue Origin claims that the maintenance downtime between trips will be minimal. The plan is for the first stage to land upright on a barge in the ocean.
Blue Origin is constructing a launch facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida, from which New Glenn missions can take off. The company intends for the initial launch to happen before the end of 2019. Early flights will carry payloads only, but the company does have plans to eventually add humans to the missions. Blue Origin intends for New Glenn to be a step on the path toward a regular human presence in space.
And after that? Blue Origin has another mission in the works, and like the others, this one is named after a famous astronaut. Not surprisingly, the in-development project is called New Armstrong. Like its namesake, Neil Armstrong, will this mission head to the moon? It’s possible, but Jeff Bezos has also hinted at the possibility of travel to Mars.
Little information about the New Armstrong project has yet been released to the public. For now, curious onlookers can only speculate about the plans for New Armstrong. Don’t expect any major announcements soon, however. The company is notorious for keeping things under wraps as long as possible, and President Rob Meyerson has specifically said that a spacecraft of New Armstrong’s capabilities will require years and years of work.
That’s not to say that the next few years won’t be exciting for Blue Origin. Fans of spaceflight have much to look forward to in the near future. With both New Shepard and New Glenn, Blue Origin intends to take major steps forward before 2020 arrives. It sounds like the principle of “Gradatim Ferociter” may soon pay off in a big way for Jeff Bezos’s spaceflight venture.