Time flies like a rocket. It’s been a little over a year since the last flight of a Blue Origin test vehicle.

On 6 May 2011, Blue Origin successfully flew its New Shepard Propulsion Module 2 (PM2) on a short test hop.

On 24 August 2011, Blue Origin flew the PM2 to Mach 1.2 and 45,000 feet. Unfortunately, the vehicle lost stability and exceeded its planned angle-of-attack, causing the range-safety system to terminate thrust. The PM2 crashed in the desert.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos was stoic about the crash. “Not the outcome any of us wanted,” he said, “but we’re signed up for this to be hard, and the Blue Origin team is doing an outstanding job.“

The always-secretive rocket company hasn’t been much in the public eye since that time. Blue Origin’s director of business development and strategy, Brett Alexander, appeared at the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, which took place in Palo Alto last February. At the time, he indicated that Blue Origin was already at work on a replacement for the PM2. If the replacement is finished, however, it apparently hasn’t flown yet.

Some industry sources have told us they believe the transonic instability may be due to the aerodynamic shape of the PM2. If true, that would require some redesign work, which may explain the delay.

Blue Origin received another setback this July, when NASA’s Commercial Crew integrated Capability (CCiCap) awards were announced. CCiCap is a continued of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, under which NASA has been helping to fund the development of commercial capabilities for carrying NASA astronauts and citizen space explorers to the International Space Station. Under CCDev, NASA had provided funding to Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), Boeing, and Sierra Nevada, and a much smaller award to Blue Origin. At the direction of Congress, NASA reduced the number of companies receiving awards in CCiCap. This time, SpaceX and Boeing received major awards, with Sierra Nevada receiving a smaller award and Blue Origin receiving nothing at all.

This outcome could not have been a major surprise to Blue Origin. SpaceX has already demonstrated its Falcon 9 rocket and an unmanned version of its Dragon capsule, successfully docking with International Space Station and carrying cargo in both directions. Boeing has not yet demonstrated its CST-100 capsule, but it is one of the world’s premiere aerospace companies and its heritage divisions built the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules, the Space Shuttle orbiters, and most US components of the International Space Station. Sierra Nevada is just now starting atmospheric flight tests of its DreamChaser lifting body. The DreamChaser approach is significantly different from the capsules proposed by SpaceX, Boeing, and Blue Origin, however. From a programmatic point of view, it makes sense that NASA would hedge its bets  by including a diverse approach.

Still, Blue Origin must be reexamining its business plans at this point. The CCiCap loss may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Up to this point, Blue Origin’s development work has been a bit unfocused, with efforts split between the suborbital New Shepard and its orbital CCDev vehicle. The CCiCap loss may force Blue Origin to focus more on the suborbital vehicle, possibly improving their chances of success.

It doesn’t look like Blue Origin is going away any time soon. There are current openings for at least 17 engineers, according to the corporate website. We’re hoping to see them flying again soon.

Written by Astro1 on August 27th, 2012 , Blue Origin

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COMMENTS
    Someone commented

    CCiCap was not a loss for Blue Origin, they did not compete and did not care. CCDev was simply bonus funding for work that they were already doing.
    Oh, and PM3 is not due to be ready for flight until 2014, so don’t expect anything for another year and a half.

    Reply
    August 28, 2012 at 10:02 am
    Coastal Ron commented

    I have no insight into what Blue Origin is doing, but I think they came to realize that CCiCap was not a program they could win, and that likely was the reason they decided to stick with their Plan A – sub-orbital vehicles.

    I think “Someone Commented” is probably right, that the CCDev work had a lot of commonality to what they were already doing, so why not pursue it and use OPM (Other People’s Money) to do what they were already planning to do. It’s a Win-Win if Blue Origin eventually succeeds in building a sustainable sub-orbital business.

    I also think Jeff Bezos has a plan, and they are executing to that plan. What throws all of us off here is that they don’t talk about what they are doing, and they are not in a hurry. However they have already done quite a bit when you compare their accomplishments with that of other nations, and they are only a small, privately funded operation.

    Reply
    August 28, 2012 at 12:26 pm