Amazons in space?
January 4, 2007 1:39 PM   Subscribe

Amazon founder test-launches spacecraft. Want to get a job at Blue Origin? For some reason, he didn't use the relatively nearby and somewhat innacurately-named Spaceport America...
posted by eparchos (36 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
*inaccurately. Damn you, lysdexia!
posted by eparchos at 1:44 PM on January 4, 2007

Really, it's to my discredit that I'm not a crazy billionaire who can build space ships just because I want to.
posted by Burhanistan at 1:48 PM on January 4, 2007

The answer to your second question: yes. I only need 10 more years of experience.
posted by muddgirl at 1:50 PM on January 4, 2007

the Thunderbirds did this like 40 years ago. I guess the wires have just gotten thinner.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:52 PM on January 4, 2007

Hard to tell from the article (please can we minimize links to BBC science articles? they suck.) but it seems like this was more a test of the craft's vertical take off and landing functionality than an actual "launch". I guess technically it left the ground, but "launch" kind of implies that they tried to get it into space.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:52 PM on January 4, 2007

the control is pretty impressive. When John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace tried this it didn't work out so well, although that was a couple of years ago. I checked their website and it looks like they're still at it.
posted by delmoi at 1:53 PM on January 4, 2007

Needs more fire! Seriously, no fire? Nice post. If, like me, you found that the BBC link was teh suxxor, there is a video posted on the Blue Origin site.
posted by Mister_A at 1:59 PM on January 4, 2007

This is exactly what I envision a probe to Uranus would look like.
posted by hal9k at 2:04 PM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Their logo with the turtles pawing towards the cosmos is not confidence inspiring (even if the turtle won the race eventually).
posted by Burhanistan at 2:07 PM on January 4, 2007

It then starts to descend before making a controlled landing back on its feet approximately 25 seconds after take-off.

Would someone explain to me the benefit of these "controlled landing" spacecraft? I know Pete Conrad was working on one a few years ago, Carmack is working on one with Armadillo, and now Bezo's company is doing it. Doesn't it require a hell of a lot of fuel for a controlled decent? Certainly wings or a parachute would weigh a lot less.

Sure you can land on the same pad you took off from, but it doesn't seem like a good trade-off.

In any event, mega-rich dudes paying super-geniuses to design spacecraft = better chance of Bondcliff having a manage-a-trios with two cyberbabes on the moon some day. I'm all for it.
posted by bondcliff at 2:09 PM on January 4, 2007

Excuse me, that's "menage à trois" (meal for three), not manage a trio--no manager needed.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:11 PM on January 4, 2007

I like that it looks like the spaceship from any 1950s science fiction movie with a (human-built) spaceship.
posted by Mister_A at 2:13 PM on January 4, 2007

Thanks, Burhanistan, but even if I spell it correctly I'll still never have one. Say la vee.
posted by bondcliff at 2:23 PM on January 4, 2007

Would someone explain to me the benefit of these "controlled landing" spacecraft?

There are two other options: crashing into the sea (Apollo), or gliding to a landing (Space Shuttle). Crashing into the sea is bad for casual travelers and re-use schedules, and gliding to a landing forces too many design restrictions, since you need a body that can produce lift and that can withstand taking off one way and landing another way.
posted by dammitjim at 2:24 PM on January 4, 2007

"Blue Origin's engineering and manufacturing teams work in ... Kent, Washington. We are just 20 minutes south of Seattle and 15 minutes from Sea-Tac airport. "

20 minutes?

Yeah, if you're fired from a cannon.
posted by Relay at 2:26 PM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

hmm here are armadillo aerospace's videos. Plenty of fire :P
posted by delmoi at 2:34 PM on January 4, 2007

Pete Conrad was working on the defunct DC-X

More in the link
posted by A189Nut at 2:38 PM on January 4, 2007

There are two other options:

You forget the Soyuz method. uncontrolled balistic descent-parachute slows you to 25fps- retro rockets that go off right before impact- and a shock absorbing seat
posted by Megafly at 2:40 PM on January 4, 2007

an example of a failure hehe.
posted by delmoi at 2:42 PM on January 4, 2007

It's neat, but it's really just designed to go up very high and come down again, isn't it? As opposed to making orbit?

You cna sort of call that spaceflight, and if you're a fan of SpaceShipOne you probably would, but it's not really a useful or interesting form of spaceflight.

I'm super impressed by the clean burning jets though.
posted by Artw at 2:44 PM on January 4, 2007

Artw - going up and coming back down is a good first step. Making an orbit just involves going up high enough and pointing your nose in the right direction (as well as a bunch of safety and life support equipment that hasn't really been redeveloped in the private sector, yet).
posted by muddgirl at 2:46 PM on January 4, 2007

Oh, and then there's this crazy ass experiment.
posted by delmoi at 2:47 PM on January 4, 2007

uncontrolled balistic descent-parachute slows you to 25fps- retro rockets that go off right before impact- and a shock absorbing seat

True... these two options are also bad for casual travelers. It seems like gliding and controlled vertical landing are the only options so far that regular people (not astronaut super-people) would tolerate. 'Course, then there's the Space Elevator.
posted by dammitjim at 2:47 PM on January 4, 2007

Oh, and then there's this crazy ass experiment.

At that rate, it will take forever to get to the center of the earth.
posted by hal9k at 3:42 PM on January 4, 2007

Figures that the Amazon craft would resemble one breast.
posted by rob511 at 3:47 PM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Is the Soyuz reusable after it does a land parachute landing? Or does it get banged up?
posted by smackfu at 3:54 PM on January 4, 2007

I scratched the paint on my bloc-captain's cherry Vostok while docking one time and those dang Reds took it outta my paycheck for a year.
posted by Dizzy at 4:04 PM on January 4, 2007

The Soyuz get banged up. On occasion, so do its passengers. (See also.)
posted by cgs06 at 4:14 PM on January 4, 2007

A video of the cone-shaped Goddard vehicle shows it climbing to about 85m (285ft) before returning back to Earth.

Simple definition. Border of space: 100km above the surface.

Simple comparison. .085km < 100km. simple statement. that's not a spacecraft. spacecraft get close to space. that's a *lousy* aircraft. i'd be impressed by the landing technology, except we've already done that. repeatedly. with a href="">much heavier aircraft. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is impressive there. They thought the landing problem was computationally hard in 1975. By 1990, CPUs were already there. Nowadays? The autopilot will land the rocket while beating you at chess.

Landing on a rocket plume is not the hard part. Getting the ΔV to get the mass you need to LEO is the hard part.

Landing on a rocket plume is insane in our gravity well. There's a lovely, but barely workable idea -- SSTO. The rocket equation makes it almost useless. There's a very bad idea: Reuseable SSTO, which means you're bringing back almost all of the mass you send up.

Then there's the Incredibly Stupid Idea -- a rocket-plume landing reusable SSTO booster. That means on every launch, you need to haul the booster up -- and back, and haul up the fuel to land it with. Oh, and you really should have *some* payload.

We can barely do SSTO -- someone figured a Titan II first stage could probably put about 4900kg into a very low earth orbit. Note that 4750kg of this would be the first stage itself. The cost to payload ratio sucks -- that's why we use multiple stages.

Add in the extra mass for reusability, and it doesn't make orbit. Add in the fuel you'll need to land it on the boosters, and it might not even lift off.

You want reusable SSTO? Build an engine that has an Isp of about 1000 in air, 1500 in vacuum, and still puts out on the order of 200KN or better thrust, while massing about the same as current engines The best we have achieved out of a chemical rocket was 542. You will *never* see this rocket fly. If you did, the exhaust would eat the bones out of your body -- it was a Li/H/F propellant. Theoretically, you can get 850 out of a hydrogen/nuclear engine, but lord, the mass penalty sucks. Ion engines have the specific impulse, but when the thrust is 10N, you're about a factor of 200 away from liftoff.
posted by eriko at 4:19 PM on January 4, 2007

rob511 - brilliant - best astute-yet-humorous mythological reference on MeFi in ages...
posted by twsf at 4:31 PM on January 4, 2007

Yeah, I'm not exactly sure what the point of these devices is, other then quick "space" rides for rich people.
posted by delmoi at 5:25 PM on January 4, 2007

Amazon is still reaching for the sky — from the November 13, 2006 BusinessWeek Online article, Jeff Bezos' Risky Bet:
Lately profits have fallen, dragged down by spending on new technology projects and on free-shipping offers that Amazon considers marketing in place of TV ads. Analysts expect full-year net income this year to come in at about $180 million, or half of last year's total. Most worrisome to investors is Amazon's three-year-plus binge on new technologies. So far this year its spending on technology and content, including hiring hundreds of engineers and programmers to produce all these new services and buy more servers to run them, is up 52%, to $485 million. As a result, operating margins, at 4.1% for the past four quarters, now come in at less than Wal-Mart's 5.9%. Even Barnes & Noble Inc. (BKS ), that doughty bricks-and-mortar book chain that many expected to get remaindered by the Web, has higher margins, at 5.4%. "I have yet to see how these investments are producing any profit," gripes Piper Jaffray & Co. analyst Safa Rashtchy. "They're probably more of a distraction than anything else."

All that has investors restless and many analysts throwing up their hands wondering if Bezos is merely flailing around for an alternative to his retail operation. Eleven of 27 analysts who follow the company have underperform or sell ratings on the stock--a stunning vote of no confidence. That number of sell recommendations is matched among large companies only by Qwest Communications International Inc. (Q ), according to investment consultant StarMine Corp. It's more than even the eight sell opinions on struggling Ford Motor Co. (F )

Neither analysts nor investors think Amazon's business is in danger of collapse. It's just that they're slowly losing confidence in Bezos' promises. The company's 2007 price-to-earnings ratio of 54 is much higher than its peers', even than high-flying Google Inc. (GOOG ) at 35. But Amazon's stock is down 20% since the start of the year. A 12% one-day jump on Oct. 24 reflected slightly better-than-expected third-quarter results, but also investor relief that Bezos plans to slow the growth of new tech spending.

What's more, at the same time Bezos is thinking big thoughts, Amazon's retail business faces new threats. Its 25% sales growth tracks a little above the pace of overall e-commerce expansion and nearly double its own pace way back in 2001. But other sites are fast becoming preferred first stops on the Web. Google, for one, has replaced retail sites such as Amazon as the place where many people start their shopping. And more personalized and social upstarts such as News Corp.'s (NWS ) MySpace and YouTube, which Google is buying, have become the prime places for many people to gather online--and eventually shop. It's a trend Amazon could have trouble catching up to. Says consultant Andreas Weigend, Amazon's chief scientist until 2004: "The world has shifted from e-business to me-business."

With all those problems, some might view Bezos' latest tech toys as an attempt to take their eye off the ball...
Hold my books and watch this drive.
posted by cenoxo at 6:05 PM on January 4, 2007

I helped edit a book about the DC-X (Delta Clipper mentioned above, re Pete Conrad). This seems to be pretty much a clone of that, which was a successful project till the one test vehicle crashed and burned. There was no budget to rebuild.

This is not about SSTO, really. Not at this stage, anyway. It's more about REALLY fast flights halfway around the globe and/or space tourism. The market for the former won't really exist until you can launch from somewhere that's not BFE, I guess, but even if you had to transfer such that you have a three-hour flight from New York to the spaceport, and then a two-hour flight to Japan. Pretty cool. Or, say, Fed-Ex 12-hour service to China. If it were cheap enough, there'd be a market for it.

So where does the R & D money come from? The govt doesn't much care. Seems appropriate that a company about which it was always said "they'll never make a profit," would go into this. (AFAIK, Amazon operates in the black now, but has a long way to go to pay off all the red ink they blew setting up shop).
posted by rikschell at 6:27 PM on January 4, 2007

Nothing, and I mean nothing, is impressive there.

I dunno. If your business is joy-rides for wankers, isn't proven technology more what you want?

If it were my money, I'd go with an air-launched lifting body, although the SpaceShipOne thing isn't a bad alternative. But especially if it were my money and I wanted a reliable product, I wouldn't be trying to "impress" numbers-spinning space geeks such as yourself. But especially since it's my money, and I'm not in the launch business but the joyride business, I'm certainly not going to spend a dime on creating an mpressive SSTO because it has nothing to do with my business.
posted by dhartung at 6:35 PM on January 4, 2007

But especially since it's my money, and I'm not in the launch business but the joyride business, I'm certainly not going to spend a dime on creating an mpressive SSTO because it has nothing to do with my business.

Are you kidding? If you're going to pay big bucks to fly on a spaceship for no reason, obviously you are going to want to fly on the most awesome space ship available.

I wouldn't be trying to "impress" numbers-spinning space geeks such as yourself.

Just what type of rich person do you think is going to want to be going on these trips?
posted by delmoi at 11:16 PM on January 4, 2007

So you're predicting that his business will fail, delmoi. I see.
posted by dhartung at 10:22 AM on January 5, 2007

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