Tag Archives: Sarah Knights

Start saving: flying to space with Blue Origin

If there’s any anti-science sentiment around these parts it wasn’t evident last Friday at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard, where some 500 space enthusiasts packed the brewer’s beer garden—yes, we were sitting outside, in Seattle, in January—to hear from employees of Kent-based Blue Origin about the company’s latest testing and the prospects for an affordable ride to space any time soon. The event was the latest installment of Astronomy on Tap Seattle, organized by graduate students in astronomy at the University of Washington.

Blue Origin Folks

L-R Nicholas Patrick, Dan Kuchan, and Sarah Knights of Blue Origin after their presentation at Peddler Brewing Company. Astronomy on Tap photo: Brett Morris and Nicole Sanchez.

“Our ultimate mission is to have millions of people living and working in space,” said Sarah Knights, outreach coordinator at Blue Origin. “The way that we’re focused on that is to lower the cost of human spaceflight, and one of the ways to do that is to make vehicles reusable, so that’s our primary focus right now.”

Blue Origin’s current test vehicle is the New Shepard, a capsule and vertical takeoff/vertical landing rocket. It’s powered by the BE-3, for Blue Engine 3, which is fueled by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen and can deliver 110,000 pounds at full thrust. As suggested, the rocket blasts off, and then lands softly back on Earth.

“As it’s coming back down we can throttle it back to about twenty percent of its full throttle, so that means that as the propulsion module is coming down we can have an equal thrust-to-weight ratio, find the landing pad, and very gently set it down,” Knights explained.

Blue Origin safety test

Dan Kuchan, Product Development Team lead engineer on the New Glenn program at Blue Origin, said the most recent test of New Shepard, conducted in October, was of the vehicle’s full-envelope crew escape system.

“That means that if the rocket at some point decides that we can’t go to space today, the crew capsule can jettison itself and get out of Dodge,” Kuchan explained. It was the first such in-flight escape test for a space vehicle since 1965, during the Apollo program. Kuchan showed this video of the flight test during the presentation.

“That was an awesome test and it capped off the fifth flight and landing for that booster,” Kuchan said. “The system worked flawlessly.”

Astronauts soon

So far New Shepard has only flown without a crew, but they hope to have astronauts on board soon. That’s where Nicholas Patrick comes in. Patrick, a former NASA astronaut who flew on space shuttle missions for construction of the International Space Station, is now Blue Origin’s human integration architect.

“I’m responsible for worrying constantly about every aspect of flying on our spacecraft,” Patrick said. That includes everything from meeting rules and regulations, testing to make everything right, and every imaginable human factor.

They chose a capsule rather than a winged vehicle like the space shuttle partly for safety. The smaller capsule can get away from the booster quickly, as demonstrated in the video above. Patrick said it’s also a better way to travel.

“For those who are paying to ride aboard a New Shepard in the coming years this is a more authentic rocket flight experience than most other ways you could get to space,” he said.

The New Shepard capsule has big windows, the largest ever flown in space, and all passengers will have one of their own; there are no middle seats on New Shepard. Suborbital flights will last about eleven minutes, and passengers will be weightless for several minutes.

“We want to give them the best imaginable experience,” Patrick said. He showed this video animation of what a New Shepard flight will be like.

“That’s a New Shepard flight that we hope will be available to anybody who can get in and out of the capsule, who can tolerate the three Gs on ascent, and a little higher on descent,” Patrick said. “So start saving.”

At what cost?

How much to save is a question that Patrick said hasn’t yet been answered.

“Obviously everybody’s goal is to get this price down a long way,” he said. “We’re not going to get millions of people living and working in space by charging a quarter of a million or a hundred thousand dollars just for a suborbital flight.”

The question of when people will fly on New Shepard also hasn’t been answered.

“We’re not driven by that kind of schedule,” Patrick said. “We’re driven by our flight test program and the success or challenges we face in each of those tests.”

“What I can tell you is that I expect we’ll be flying people in the next year or two,” he added.

Kuchan noted that, in a way, New Shepard astronauts will be human guinea pigs.

“New Shepard and everything we’re doing, sending tourists into space, is all a way for us to practice and master landing a reusable rocket, and using it in a commercially viable way, so that over the next 50, 100, 200 years we can move civilization deeper into space,” Kuchan said.

Next steps: a bigger rocket

Blue Origin’s motto is gradatim ferociter—step by step, ferociously. The next step for the company is on the drawing board now: the New Glenn, which will get payloads into Earth orbit. The New Glenn will dwarf the New Shepard. While the latter is powered by one BE-3 engine that delivers 110,000 pounds of thrust, the New Glenn will have seven BE-4 engines that deliver 550,000 pounds of thrust each. That’s a lot of oomph. Again, there’s no totally firm timeline, but Kuchan said they’ve been asked to deliver the rocket by the end of the decade, and added that they plan to do so. It’s another step on the way to having millions of people living and working in space.

“Every single decision that gets made at Blue Origin is weighed against that ultimate goal,” Knights said.

SAS banquet, AoT this week

One of the more anticipated astronomy events of the year will happen this week, and Astronomy on Tap Seattle will have a Friday gathering in Ballard.

SAS banquet

Kelly Beatty

Beatty

The Seattle Astronomical Society‘s annual banquet will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday, January 28 at the Swedish Club on Dexter Avenue North in Seattle. In keeping with the society’s great track record of attracting excellent speakers each January, Kelly Beatty, a senior editor of Sky & Telescope magazine, will give the keynote talk about Pluto, from its discovery through the New Horizons mission. In addition to his post with the magazine, Beatty serves on the board of the International Dark-Sky Association and is a passionate advocate against light pollution.

Reservations for the banquet are available online and must be made by this Wednesday, January 25. The price is $45 for society members, $60 for non-members. The discount is a good reason to join today!

Astronomy on Tap

AOT Jan 2017Astronomy on Tap Seattle will turn the floor over to Blue Origin for its gathering at 7 p.m. Friday, January 27 at Peddler Brewing Company in Ballard.

Former NASA astronaut Nicholas Patrick, now the Human Integration Architect at Blue Origin, will talk about “The New Shepard Astronaut Experience” on the company’s crewed spaceflight vehicles; and Blue Origin staffers Sarah Knights and Dan Kuchan will give a talk titled, “Blue Origin: Earth, in All its Beauty, is Just Our Starting Place.”

It’s free, but do remember to buy some beer, as astronomy and a good brew go together! Winners of the evening’s trivia contests will be in line for some special Blue Origin prizes. A ride on a spacecraft, perhaps?

Astronaut remembrance

Apollo 1 crew

L-R: Astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee were killed in a cabin fire during a launchpad test of Apollo 1 on Jan. 27, 1967. Photo: NASA.

It’s a sad time of year in space exploration as astronauts of Apollo 1 and the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia perished during accidents in late January and early February. From January 27 through February 5 the Museum of Flight will host an exhibit and video paying tribute to the astronauts who were lost in the quest to explore outer space.

NASA JPL Solar System Ambassadors Ron Hobbs and Tony Gondola will give a special presentation about the astronauts at 2 p.m. Saturday, January 28 at the museum.

Futures file

You can scout out future astronomy events on our calendar. We’ve recently added information about The Galileo Dialogues coming up February 15 from Infinity Box Theatre Project. The page also features a full schedule of planetarium and stage science shows at Pacific Science Center.

Up in the sky

Saturn and Mercury play tag with the Moon as it wanes toward new this week. This Week’s Sky at a Glance from Sky & Telescope magazine and The Sky This Week from Astronomy offer more observing highlights for the week.