A new round of space race has begun.
Earlier this month, the 71-year-old billionaire Richard Branson led his employees on the Spaceship II and became the first founder of a commercial aerospace company to enter space. This is more or less the founding of Blue Origin Bezos had a dull face.
Fortunately, just now Bezos surpassed Branson.
After a short flight, Bezos took the new Shepard rocket system to reach the Carmen line (100 kilometers from the earth), successfully flew into space, and flew farther than Branson, with a gap of about 14 kilometers between the two sides.
The entire flight takes about 11 minutes. As Bezos returns, commercial manned space tourism is getting closer and closer to ordinary people.
Twenty-one years of journey to realize dreams, finally in space
According to the Washington Post, Bezos stated that space travel was one of his most important aspirations as early as 18 years old. In 2000, the billionaire set out to realize his aspirations. He established the blue Origin company.
For this space dream, Bezos is going all out. A lot of Blue Origin’s operating funds come from the sale of Amazon’s stock. It is said that he invests 1 billion U.S. dollars in it every year, and he resigned at the age of 57. Amazon CEO is also to focus on the aerospace industry.
Originally in 2019, Bezos was about to fly into space on the 50th anniversary of Apollo’s moon landing. Later, he gave up because the rocket’s safety was not up to standard. Today is the 52nd anniversary of Apollo’s moon landing. On this day, Bezos Si finally realized his young dream-flying into space.
Unlike Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin uses a flight plan similar to the vertical push of a traditional rocket. In order to get to space, the New Shepard on this mission has performed 15 test flights, and the sixteenth time. The rocket flight system finally ushered in 4 real passengers.
▲The name of the new Shepard rocket comes from Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut to enter space
The new Shepard rocket system is mainly divided into two parts. The upper end is a pressurized crew cabin. According to the information released by Blue Origin, the internal volume of this crew cabin is about 15 cubic meters. The middle is the power unit and the seats are surrounded by seats. , Can support up to 6 people to ride.
At the bottom is the main body of the rocket, which contains the power engine, landing gear, drag brake and other devices. The new Shepard rocket will accelerate to launch close to the Carmen line and will be separated from the crew compartment, and then gradually reduce the speed to fall, the lowest speed can even reach 8 km/h.
Moreover, it can hover vertically during landing to further adjust the falling position to ensure the stability and safety of the fall to the greatest extent. This is also the main part of the new Shepard rocket system that can be recovered, effectively reducing launch costs.
▲ New Shepard rocket propulsion device landed
The crew compartment on the top will continue to slide for a certain distance until it touches the Carmen line, and then the crew compartment will gradually fall, and when it approaches the ground, the parachute will be deployed to further reduce the flight speed.
The power unit of the crew cabin will be activated when it is about to touch the ground and will slowly fall at a speed of 1.6 km/h to achieve a soft landing. In the previous test, the maximum speed of the rocket reached 3675 km/h.
In addition to Bezos, there were three other passengers on the New Shepard rocket, Bezos' younger brother Mark Bezos, and 18-year-old physics student Oliver Damen (Oliver Damen).
In the first flight qualification auction, Oliver's father was originally only the second highest bidder, but the passenger who was photographed for $28 million failed to do so due to schedule conflicts, and instead allowed the 18-year-old student to make the trip, which is really enviable. Others.
The last passenger is even more legendary, 82-year-old Wally Funk (Wally Funk), she was originally a member of the US Mercury 13 program, which aims to select astronauts from female pilots with flight experience. The government plan was cancelled, and Wally's dream of space came to no avail.
Today she realized her dream aboard the New Shepard Rocket and became one of the oldest astronauts.
Similar to Virgin Galactic, the four passengers on this flight, including Bezos, did not wear space suits, but blue jumpsuits.
This is because ordinary tourists have not undergone the same long-term training as astronauts. They are prone to vomiting during flight or after landing. If wearing a space suit, it is easy to be choked by vomit, but it will be dangerous. Safety issues such as pressure in the cabin are relied on. The design of the crew compartment itself avoids.
During the whole flight, I can only feel the weightlessness for 3 minutes, but it is not too comfortable.
This large and small one almost broke the space record, coupled with Bezos's personal participation in the first flight, undoubtedly raised the credibility of Blue Origin's space tourism service to a new level.
Bezos crossed the Carmen line, but this is not the most important
Long before the launch of the New Shepard, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic had a quarrel. The focus of the dispute was whether it had contacted the "Carmen Line", which is 100 kilometers above sea level. This altitude was recognized by the International Aviation Federation. Defined as the dividing line between the atmosphere and space.
▲ The whole process of the New Shepard Rocket Space Travel
Last time, Branson and his party only flew at an altitude of 86 kilometers. Although they exceeded the space boundary (80 kilometers above sea level) stipulated by the US Air Force and NASA, they were still ridiculed that they did not go to space at all.
But in fact, the core experience of the two, weightlessness, is not as big as imagined. It is only a few minutes. The bigger difference in experience actually comes from the crew cabin itself.
Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo spacecraft is actually more like an airplane, and still requires astronauts to control it. Of course, experienced astronauts can also guarantee safety and experience to a certain extent,
The New Shepard Rocket is a fully automatic system and does not rely on human manual control, which means that the crew cabin can be filled with six seats, and the crew cabin of the New Shepard Rocket has huge windows.
Blue Origin claims that this is the largest window in the history of aerospace. It occupies a full one-third of the crew cabin, allowing a better view of the space. The 6 seats are all next to the window, and the viewing experience will indeed be better.
In fact, for the two who completed the space flight, the Carmen line is no longer the most important, but how to ensure the stability of the space flight in the future.
Safety is one of the core requirements. It is reported that about 1% of US manned spaceflights have had fatal accidents. The former Federal Aviation Administration Deputy Director George Nield who participated in the report said to foreign media Business insider:
The risk is quite high, it is about 10,000 times more dangerous than flying on a commercial airliner.
The fall of a small part may cause a life accident. Virgin Galactic had an accident during its test flight in 2014, resulting in a tragedy of one death and one serious injury. The validity period of the manned space license issued by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to Blue Origin is limited to August this year.
Bezos and Blue Origin have also made a lot of efforts to make this flight safe. In terms of the design of the new Shepard rocket system, the annular design and wedge-shaped fins on the lower-end powered rocket not only reduce fuel consumption, but also It can also further stabilize the booster and reduce the flight speed of the powered rocket.
The blue origin even indicates that the drag brake can halve the falling speed of the powered rocket.
The crew cabin used for accommodating passengers is more rigorous. Careful observation reveals that the crew cabin maintains an oval shape. This is because the windward surface area is larger, which is more suitable for lowering the falling speed. After all, the discomfort of the human body will increase dramatically under high-speed flight. .
As mentioned above, the pilot cabin will activate the power unit to achieve a soft landing before landing, minimizing vibration. In addition to the 5 seat belts, the inclined seats on the crew cabin are also equipped with special fixing devices to ensure that people will not be thrown out at high speeds.
The hardware settings are far from enough. Before Bezos flew, the New Shepard had conducted many tests, including rocket soft landing tests, crew cabin escape system and rocket power unit real-time disengagement tests, etc., since 2012 By 2021, Blue Origin has completed a total of 15 tests.
Hardware design and many tests are the reasons why Bezos dared to fly for the first time.
Virgin Galactic president Mike Mosse was interviewed shortly after the flight in Branson, in which he mentioned that the spacecraft would be upgraded to prepare for commercial operations.
For the two private aerospace companies, the space journey of the founders of the two parties is just the beginning. How to improve the travel standard process, how to improve safety, and how to reach a unified safety audit standard with the regulatory authorities, all need to be one by one. carry out.
Otherwise, manned space travel is not like travel, but a kind of "extreme sports" that is not low-risk-while enjoying weightlessness, you have to risk your life.
The era of space travel has just begun
In fact, there were companies that completed commercial manned spaceflight before Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, but at that time it was more like an activity exclusively owned by the wealthy. The wealthy American businessman Dennis Tito (Dennis Tito) spent money in 2001. 20 million U.S. dollars bought a spaceship ticket and boarded the International Space Station via a Russian spacecraft.
Including Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and even SpaceX afterwards all hope to reduce costs so that ordinary people can get closer to one of the ultimate human dreams-exploring space.
At present, although Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have taken the lead in commercial space tourism, this is not absolute. Musk and his SpaceX are still one of the important competitors in this field.
Previously, SpaceX had successfully sent astronauts to the International Space Station through rockets. At the end of this year, it will send four ordinary people into space. Its flight altitude will reach two to three times that of the International Space Station, and the distance between the international space and the ground It is 400 kilometers.
However, the four passengers did not include the International Space Station in their journey, but flew around the earth, allowing passengers to enjoy the scenery of the rising and setting of the sun.
In 2023, Yusaku Maezawa, the founder of Japanese fashion e-commerce group Start Today Co, will also fly to the moon on SpaceX's new generation of large Falcon rockets (BFR) for a week-long space flight. This is much farther than contacting the Carmen line, and it is more dangerous, and the requirements for the aircraft are also higher.
Musk also forwarded a set of emoticons before Bezos went into space, joking that Bezos just flew over the edge of space instead of higher earth orbit.
However, Bezos and his Blue Origin did not relax. After the New Shepard Rocket System, Blue Origin also developed a rocket system called "New Glen".
▲ New Glen Rockets
The name of this rocket comes from the American astronaut John Glenn, who is the first astronaut in the United States to enter the earth orbit. Blue Origin has signed cooperation agreements with European Telecommunications Satellite Company, Satellite Communication Company OneWeb and other companies to use New Glenn rockets for them. Complete transportation tasks.
The latest launch of the New Glenn rocket is scheduled for 2022, and the competition between the three private aerospace companies will only become increasingly fierce.
For them, space travel has the purpose of accumulating data and technical experiments in addition to its popularization. Flight experience and body data after the end will become the basis for them to optimize the next space travel, which is also conducive to reducing space travel preparation time. , Make it the same service as commercial aircraft.
On the other hand, Bezos and Musk’s ambitions are not limited to space tourism. The former hopes to go to the moon and establish an industrial base on it, while the latter hope to go to Mars as a colony. Space tourism can not only collect human body adaptations. Data can provide the most direct help for the aspirations of the two-money.
Take Virgin Galactic, which has opened a large number of ticket sales, for example. It has sold more than 600 ferry tickets. With a non-rigorous calculation of 250,000 US dollars, the total value has reached 150 million US dollars. When mature, its marginal cost will only be lower.
Virgin Galactic also stated that it will shorten the flight time interval and send a group of tourists into space every 32 hours by 2023, and its profitability will also be greatly accelerated.
▲ Picture from: Foxbusiness
What's more, the space travel market is a market that is in short supply. According to the forecast report released by UBS, the space travel market will reach US$3 billion by 2030. The intuitive economic benefits will support companies including Blue Origin to invest more to achieve a more popular lunar exploration and even Mars exploration program.
As the market moves and matures, more and more people and companies will join in and launch corresponding projects. Boeing has also stated that it will cooperate with NASA to explore Mars, and my country’s China Long March Rocket Co., Ltd. has also stated the future May develop space tourism services.
In the "2017-2045 Space Transportation System Development Roadmap" issued by the First Academy of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, it is also mentioned that around 2025, reusable suborbital vehicles have been successfully developed, and China's suborbital space tourism may become a reality.
With the success of the space flight by the founders of the two private companies, the era of space tourism has officially begun. The next step is how to fly more stably and more frequently.
The Shepard Rocket related pictures in the article are from Blue Origin
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