FAA report reveals details of Blue Origin space tourism vehicle planned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos

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By Rob Coppinger in London

Details of the single stage-to-suborbit vehicle being funded by Amazon.com’s founder Jeff Bezos have emerged in a US Federal Aviation Administration doument.

Published last week, the FAA environmental assessment is for Bezos’s proposed launch site at Corn Ranch, 40km (25miles) north of Van Horn, Texas. The assessment is for experimental flight permits for subscale prototype rockets and the full vehicle, provisionally called New Shephard. The report details the proposed launcher and its flight profile.

Expected to be used for space tourism, the New Shephard reusable launch vehicle is a 15m (49ft) tall conical vertical take-off and landing rocket with a three-person crew capsule on top of a propulsion module, which is 7m wide at its base.

This description suggests the rocket is based on the McDonnell Douglas / NASA Delta Clipper Experimental Advanced vehicle (pictured below), cancelled in 1996.

delta clipper w445



“Main propulsion develops about 230,000lbs (1,000kN) at lift off using 90% concentration hydrogen peroxide and kerosene as propellants,” says the report.

It also explains that the crew capsule has a solid rocket launch abort system to separate it from the propulsion module.

The flight profile will see the vehicle fire its engine for 2min reaching 125,000ft (38,000m) altitude. Then its momentum would see it coast to at least 100km (54nm) before returning to Earth.

The report states that Bezos claims that the crew capsule and propulsion module may separate at this point or may return as a single vehicle.

Without the separation the whole system lands under power as the main engines reignite for about 15s just before landing.

If separation occurs the crew capsule would land using parachutes while the propulsion system descends under power.

The FAA report says the launch site will have a vehicle processing facility, a launch complex, a vehicle landing and recovery area and a spaceflight participant training facility.

Blue Origin proposes to conduct a test flight programme over the next five years at its Corn Ranch launch site, detailed in the table below.

BLUE ORIGIN FLIGHT TEST PROGRAMME
Year
Activity
2006
The majority of facility construction at the site would occur during this period. In the third and fourth quarters of 2006, Blue Origin would ship the first prototype low-altitude test vehicle to the site and conduct the first flight tests. Ten or fewer flight tests could be conducted in 2006, each to an altitude of approximately 2,000ft (610m) for less than 1min.
2007-2009
Continued flight testing of prototype vehicles with incrementally increasing capability. During these years, Blue Origin proposes to gradually expand the operational envelope of its vehicles, conducting 25 or fewer launches per year. A wide range of tests are anticipated, ranging in altitude from under 2,000ft to greater than 325,000ft, lasting 1min or less to over 10min. Development tests of the crew capsule abort system would be conducted during this time frame. Some construction to upgrade the facility would also occur, adding additional infrastructure to support the increasing capabilities of the system.
2010
Commercial operations may commence with the operational New Shepard vehicle in this timeframe. The flight rate would depend on market demand, but Blue Origin anticipates rates up to approximately 52 launches per year of the New Shepard relaunchable launch vehicle.