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Blue Origin Will Be VTOL 92

Spy Handler writes "The Blue Origin spacecraft, being built by Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos' new venture, will have VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) capability, according to the company's FAA permit applications. It will be a cone-shaped vehicle about 50 feet tall and 22 feet in diameter at the base, and carry 3 or more passengers to an altitude of 325,000 feet"
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Blue Origin Will Be VTOL

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  • by stoborrobots ( 577882 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @06:24AM (#15774891)
    They're claiming that the commercial launch around 2010 will be able to make 52 lauches a year, meaning that they expect to be able to turn around one of these babies in a week from landing...

    That will require some interesting reliability stats on the exposed surfaces...
    • by Anonymous Coward
      An airliner has a turnaroud time of about an hour.
      • EasyJet, a UK-based LCC airline, has a turnaround time of 30-minutes on its fleet of Airbus A319 and Boeing 737 aircraft. Their entire business model revolves around very low turnaround time, so that they can use the same aircraft as many times a day as is possible.
    • Or maybe they are having more than one of them?
    • by drgould ( 24404 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @07:11AM (#15774999)
      At one point they were able to turn the DC-X (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DC-X) around in 26-hours.

      It's just a matter of designing for reliability and servicability instead of cutting-edge performance like NASA does.

      It helps that this is a sub-orbital vehicle.
    • by Tx ( 96709 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @07:44AM (#15775087) Journal
      As others have pointed out, they'll probably have more than one vehicle. I would also add that there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that there's be enough demand for 52 launches a year in the long term, though they could possibly sustain it for maybe a few months to a year after launch. After that, the novelty value will have worn off, and a trip in this thing will be looking like pretty damn poor value for money.
      • Except that the price might very well drop significantly after the company profits wildly the first year or two and reservations start to decline. Once they have all of the equipment/vehicles/etc., they just need to charge enough to break-even with a little profit on top. An inexpensive space trip would keep tons of people signing up. Not that a trip to space is going to be cheap anytime soon, but $100,000-$300,000 is a lot different than $5,000,000 or more.
      • unless they begin using it as a means of very fast travel from point a to point b...
      • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @08:53AM (#15775353) Homepage Journal
        I would also add that there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that there's be enough demand for 52 launches a year in the long term, though they could possibly sustain it for maybe a few months to a year after launch.

        This is one of those assumptions that you put in your business plan spreadsheet, that makes the difference between success and failure but which nobody can say for sure.

        Elementary economics tells us you can't possibly say something like "there won't be enough demand for 52 launches per year in the long term." What you have to say is "the market will demand less than 52 launches per year at a certain price." Price the launch low enough, and you'll be able to sell a thousand or even a million launches; the question is, can you make a profit.

        Creating a popular web site and creating a aerospace company are on the surface very different things. But one thing that is in common is that there is an adoption curve. You almost never have enough people want your service at the outset to sustain it. What you need is enough people to want your service to keep the ball rolling, to bring in enough cash that venture dollars don't feel too lonely as they're waiting to be shoveled into the furnace.

        The key to everything is pricing and its relationship to volume. IN a mature business, you want to charge to maximize profit, but in a startup you aren't expecting to see profit. It's more complex because your pricing has to do more things than deliver a profit. It has to deliver enough volume so that you can begin to achieve economies of scale and learn how to operate the business efficiently; it also has to show that your business plan's ales projections and cost projections are realistic. Pricing and volume has to validate your assertions about your ability to manage the technology, as well as your assertions about how the market will respond to price.

        In a venture like this, you'd charge more at the outset, because you really can't deliver more. So supposing after initial test, you think you can launch four times a year for the first year, because you're shaking down your system and learning how to scale the system safely and efficiently. So, you charge so much that the number of rides you sell is exactly four, neither more nor less. You still burn lots of money and don't get much back. Next year, you can launch eight times, which is twice as often. You drop your prices, hopefully less that 50%; let's say 66%. Presuming that your marginal costs stay the same or drop, it means you lose more money.

        In time, repeat this process enough, and (God willing) your marginal costs start to drop, and you start to approach the area where you are making profit on each transaction instead of losing money. However, if your model was wrong, you may end up get no closer to that point: if you don't achieve economies of scale with increased volume, or if demand does not fall with price rising.

        Every business plan depends on predicting the future, and making leaps of faith about certain assumptions. Most of the time, some assumption was wrong; if it's right, and you're talking about something like this where you can't create a business overnight, then you can expect to enjoy larger than normal profits if you are right. Higher rewards nearly always entail higher risks (although the converse is not true).

        • Thanks for the Econ 101 lecture ;). Obviously my contention is that there won't be enough demand at the prices they will end up charging as the economics of the business work through. And yes, no one can say such things for sure. However my point is that the "product" here is fundamentally not a particularly attractive one, once you take out the "one of the first to do it" and "uniqueness of experience" factors. It's a fundamentally high altitude flight with a few minutes only technically in space, where ev
          • Thanks for the Econ 101 lecture

            If it's condescension you want, you've come to the right place. I've got more of it than I know what to do with. It's nice to be with people who have a sense of humor.

            However my point is that the "product" here is fundamentally not a particularly attractive one, once you take out the "one of the first to do it" and "uniqueness of experience" factors. It's a fundamentally high altitude flight with a few minutes only technically in space, where even the most wildly optimisti
          • I wouldn't pay $20,000 for a few minutes of suborbital flight, even if it was a minor sum to me.

            I saw the Discovery Channel program on the X-prize winning SS1 flights, and it was awesome. I would pay $200,000 if I had a few million dollars in my pocket, considering the only way to get into orbit is paying the Russians $20 mil.

        • My mod points expired yesterday; otherwise you'd have one more.

          +1 Informative.
        • No, the difference is that people buy books and other stuff all the time, so when you want/need other books/stuff later you favour the shop that served you well before.

          When you get thrown 99km upwards to the "edge of space" (whoo-hoo, you're not even in orbit) and float down again, you don't need to do it again. The novelty wears off and that's over. That's the point - the interest is to due the novelty; the service being essentially uselesss it will become passe when it's common. 52 flights ought to be eno
      • I do not see why they would have a problem keeping interest alive for many years if they can get the price to a reasonable level, such as around $30k. Even if people can afford a weeklong luxurious holiday for the same price, the novelty of going into space and being weightless will probably be enough.

        There were 7.5 million millionaires in the U.S. in 2004, up 10% from 2003. Even if the growth drops to 5%, after 10 years that is about 12 million over that period of time. For this company to sell 52 rides
  • I find it an intruiging venture indeed. Not only from someone not based at a National Aeronautics department; but someone that is an entrepreneur.

    Are the costs to take one of these commercial flights known yet? And wasn't a similar venture investigated by Virgin owner, Richard Branson?
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @06:29AM (#15774899) Homepage Journal

    SpaceShip[12..] is a design which will only work as a straight up-down suborbital vehicle. The basic idea behind Blue Origin: to have a straight forward rocket with a high mass fraction can be made to scale towards semiballistic lobs and eventually orbit. Its a good way to go.

  • Hmmm, a vertical take off and landing spacecraft. Sounds like a Saturn V rocket.

    • Sounds like a Saturn V rocket

      Saturn V didn't land. As the basis of a single stage to orbit system I think this is very interesting. The hardware associated with staging caused the loss of both shuttles.

      • Re:Hmmmm (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        But staging is what enabled orbital and metaorbital flights possible in the first place, as you could subtract the (dead)weight of used-up stages from the fuel/payload equation. There isn't much to do about it, except find either lighter construction materials or a method of speeding the propellant out of the nozzles much faster (preferably the second). Even then, multistage SO vehicles would perform better... unless... anyone could devise a method of refueling them during ascent, in which case first (or on
        • The primary problem for orbital flight isn't altitude, it's delta-V.. and even if you have a platform cruising at 33KM at perhaps Mach 2, you still need a heck of a lot of fuel to get to orbit. A staged rocket uses only a relatively small proportion of its fuel in getting to 33KM or Mach 2.
        • Multiple stage rockets only made orbital flights possible because the technology was not available to achieve a single stage to orbit. That does not mean that SSTO is not a highly desirable or perminantly impossible goal that is not worth persuing.
          • Re:Hmmmm (Score:1, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward
            SSTO means bigger, heavier "log" falling from the sky on reentry, suffering greater destructive forces of friction... it ought to be more expensive to design, manufacture and maintain.

            I understand that we seek to have romantic illusion of Argonauts-alike independence with "spaceship" or "spacecar" that would be more self-containd vehicle (just tank the fuel in and off you go) then repetitive vertical masonry project of huge surface-locked organisations, but that time has not come yet.

            Overall, it is like try
    • Re:Hmmmm (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Salgak1 ( 20136 ) <salgak@@@speakeasy...net> on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @07:39AM (#15775070) Homepage
      Sounds more like the old DC-X [nasa.gov] / Delta Clipper [nasa.gov] project. . . In fact, according to Wikipedia, Blue Origin has hired a number of DC-X engineers [wikipedia.org] . . .
    • Hmmm, a vertical take off and landing spacecraft. Sounds like a Saturn V rocket.

      Ummm .... no. VTO maybe, but not VTOL.

      All rockets take off vertically. They're talking about a craft which also lands vertically so it's physically in launch position.

      Saturn V rockets landed rather balistically. There is a huge difference.

      Cheers
    • You might be curios enough to check out the "Delta X" that McDonnald Douglas built for NASA. The craft worked pretty good for MD; NASA didn't read the manual, and crashed the proto type. But it was demonstrated that all worked VERY well.

      I was just thinking, if one of these things took off in Tokyo, and landed in Los Angeles, Then they could say, "We'll deliver your package when it absolutly, positively has to be there Yesterday".
  • In normal units (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Sklivvz ( 167003 ) * <marco@cecconi.gmail@com> on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @06:47AM (#15774945) Homepage Journal
    "The Blue Origin spacecraft, being built by Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos' new venture, will have VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) capability, according to the company's FAA permit applications. It will be a cone-shaped vehicle about 15 meter tall and 7 meter in diameter at the base, and carry 3 or more passengers to an altitude of 99 kilometers"
    • to an altitude of 99 kilometers

      I suspect that a rounding error crept in there.

    • by Big Nothing ( 229456 ) <big.nothing@bigger.com> on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @07:49AM (#15775099)
      "The Blue Origin spacecraft, being built by Amazon.com multi-hundradaire Jeff Bezos' new venture, will have VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) capability, according to the company's FAA permit applications. It will be a pointed-shaped vehicle about 8.3 fathoms tall and 2.17313508 x 10^-16 Parsecs in diameter at the base, and carry ~pi or more passengers to an altitude of 9.90600 x 10^14 angstrom"

      • To paraphrase (ok, steal and then blatently modify) that old movie title, the mods MUST be crazy, because the parent post was hilarious! (I especially appreciated the use of "approximately pi" and the quite appropriate "2.17313508 X 10^-16 Parsecs", though it would have been cool if you could have figured out how to work in the classics "hogshead" and "fortnight"...)
        If I had a point, Nothing would get it.
      • "The Blue Origin spacecraft, being build by Amazon.com multi-millionaire Jeff Bezos' new venture, will have VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) capability, according to the company's FAA permit applications. It will be a pointed-shaped vehicle one sixth of a football field tall, and 270,000 human hair widths in diameter at the base, and carry as many passengers as can comfortably fit in a volkswagon beetle to an altitude of 260 empire state buildings (179 CN towers)."
      • ~pi? Just say pi, and mention Alabama somewhere in the footnote.
    • So wait. 3 imperial people = 3 metric people? That's awesome! Of course, knowing the metric system, it's probably like 3 imperial humans = 3.2 metric, just enough to screw up things. Stupid Metric system.
  • http://imdb.com/title/tt0078681/ [imdb.com] and in its spare time he'll pick up dead satellites and save NASA astronaughts
    • Actually, "prior art" creds probably ought to go to (once again) Mrs Wells' little boy, H.G.; if he were still alive he could make a supportable claim on everything from "global circumnavigation via gas-filled envelope" all the way up to "lunar visitation via VTOL craft".
  • Distance to space? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by wjcofkc ( 964165 )
    Considering that medium orbital distance is 6,250 - 10,000 miles high, and that this craft is intended to go no higher than 62 miles, is this a spaceship, or a space plane? Is sixty-two miles qualifiable for low Earth orbit? Otherwise, it is a nice thought to be able to go 62 miles straight up and land somewhere else on Earth in short order relative to a jumbo jet.

    A fine step forward eitherway. I look forward to the day when these new space companies will competing for passengers - regular people passen

    • They're not trying to enter orbit, they are trying to reach space (100 km). And they are not taking passengers from point A to point B (unless you count point B as space).
    • Priceline.com, get the best rates for a moon vacation!

      Heh. We'll have a dozen different TLDs for all of the different planetary colonies, and everybody will still be clamouring for .com domains.

    • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @08:26AM (#15775234) Journal
      this craft is intended to go no higher than 62 miles, is this a spaceship, or a space plane?
      Neither. Here's a rather dull/akward metaphor:

      If a (flying) bird is a creature of the air, and a swimming fish is a creature of the water, what do you call a fish that can momentarily break the surface of the water?

      I'd still call it a creature of the water.

      Similarly, I'd call Bezos's craft a VTOL airplane -- though I might give it an asterisk -- VTOL airplane*.

      *capable of reaching super-mesospheric** altitude.

      **Where super-mesospheric*** means above 99.9999% of the atmospheric mass.

      ***Though at the the time of the X-15 flight (1963) the US considered 50 miles**** (~80km) to be the boundary of space.

      ****But the significance of the 100km boundary is that it is the approximate altitude of the turbopause, below which turbulent mixing***** of the atmosphere predominates; above this, molecular diffusion dominates.

      *****Speaking of which, it's time to get another cup of coffee (with milk, turbulently mixed) before the asterisks really get out of hand.
      • Similarly, I'd call Bezos's craft a VTOL airplane -- though I might give it an asterisk -- VTOL airplane*.

        It isn't an airplane - by your analogy, I should be an airplane, as I live in the air (I spend more time in the air than in the water) ... but I don't have wings or propellors/turbojet...

        It has no feature that puts it in league with an airplane. It is a rocket, 100%. It is not an orbital rocket, it is a suborbital rocket, meaning it makes hops but never stays out of earths orbits ad infinum. Its a
        • It isn't an airplane - by your analogy, I should be an airplane, as I live in the air (I spend more time in the air than in the water) ... but I don't have wings or propellors/turbojet...

          Umm, no. You'd be a creature of the surface, if you choose to extend the analogy.

          It would be like calling an electric car that can only do 150 miles not a "real car" because it can't travel 400 miles like my Saturn can...

          Gotta disagree again. Since when does the criteria for 'car' include travel distance of 400 mi?

          In t

          • The electric car comment was an extension of your "the rocket only goes 62 miles" comment.

            Airplanes can be rockets.

            No, rockets carry their own oxidizer onboard. Airplanes breathe oxidizer from the ambient.

            A 'plane' describes a fixed-wing vehicle.

            A plane describes a vehicle that derives its predominant lift force from aerodynamic forces (90%+). A rocket has no lifting surfaces but derives lift from its engines.

            You could put Bezos' vehicle on the moon, on Mars, under the ocean (if it was denser th
          • Hell, cars can be rockets (Remember the Darwin award for the guy who strapped one to his car and is now embedded in a cliffside?).

            Confirmed Bogus. [darwinawards.com] Although others have strapped rockets to cars before, your reference has been known to be false for a while.
      • Similarly, I'd call Bezos's craft a VTOL airplane -- though I might give it an asterisk -- VTOL airplane*.

        And in that regard, we don't need another rocket that reach 100km -- what we need is private industry to develop one-off and reuseable systems to work in Earth orbit and beyond, and heavy lift vehicles to get cargo into space in bulk to help build the next generation of Moon exploration vehicles. It sounds like Bezos is in it for the tourist dollars more than anything, and I'm afraid the ticket pric

      • by zentinal ( 602572 )

        Shouldn't / Doesn't the definition of an airplane include the vehicle achieving flight primarily through the exploitation of aerodynamic forces, instead of primarily through the expulsion of reaction mass? The Blue Origin vehicle (if the picture on the cover of the FAA Draft is any guide) has no wings, it looks like the DC-X.

        If a vehicle has wings or a lifting body, and flies by using the lift generated by those wings or the lifting body, then it is an plane. If the vehicle travels exclusively through

        • Is it a missile? How about a manned (what it carries), sub-orbital (altitude envelope), ballistic (flight profile), missile (type of vehicle)?
          Well, 'missile' sounds so, I dunno, war-like. Why not call it a Manned Extra-Mesospheric Projectile (Sub-Orbital Ballistic). Or that MEMP Son-of-a-bitch?
          • If you throw up during the flight. Would that be "projectile vomiting"?

            If it's used mainly to send Billionaires on trips between continents, would it be an InterContinental Billionaire Missile?

            Thank you, thank you, I'll be here all week.
      • If a (flying) bird is a creature of the air, and a swimming fish is a creature of the water, what do you call a fish that can momentarily break the surface of the water?

        Most people call those things flying fish [wikipedia.org].
      • Yes, but to take this even further - I say we get rid of those silent e's. I mean really, what is the point?!? And while we are at it, all those other silent letters must go - and don't get me started on words/letters with more than one pronunciation!

        Not to belabor the point - the words used in English to describe something new bear no relation to previous word usage. It only depends on marketing, for lack of a better word...
      • I looked into it and it seems the agreed on minimum qualifaction for outer space is in fact the 62 miles they are shooting for. There is still alot of atmosphere at that altitude, and I doubt that a craft could hang around very long, sinking from a reduced gravity on it's way back down to 32 feet per second squared.

        I realize this is a first generation craft of a new era in space travel and that the tourism allure is the opportunity for (eventually) most people with average means can experience very low G

  • by Vo0k ( 760020 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @07:16AM (#15775011) Journal
    Soyuz for example gets launched vertically and lands vertically (on a parachute). That's not what is usually meant by VTOL but certainly meets the definition. What about that craft? Launch will almost certainly be vertical, landing on a landing strip is much harder than a splashdown or such. So will it be a cool "all-terrain space plane" or just a vanilla space rocket?
    • Really? Shuttles aren't VTOL? Exactly how it explains in the first paragraph of the article?

      To answer your question, *obviously* it wouldn't be a space plane since it has vertical landing, exactly what this article is about. It is contrasting it to the space shuttle saying that it's *not* like the space shuttle.
      • Space Shuttles MUST land horizontally. Soyuz and such MUST land vertically. And the summary says Blue Origin will have VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) capability , which might suggest it's something like an option, extra, non-default.
        • You could have read the first couple of paragraphs of the article for clarification. I don't think that you're going to get very far reading pedantic meaning in the words of the summary.

          A spacecraft taking off from a private West Texas spaceport being bankrolled and developed by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos would take off vertically, but unlike NASA's space shuttle would also land vertically, according to an environmental study that offers a glimpse into the secretive plans.

          The craft would hit an al
        • Everything that flies has the option of a vertical landing. Some just do it more gracefully than others. :-)
        • Space Shuttles MUST land horizontally. Soyuz and such MUST land vertically. And the summary says Blue Origin will have VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) capability , which might suggest it's something like an option, extra, non-default.

          And on a darker note, all spacecraft have the ability to land by crashing, as Soyuz, the Shuttle, and the DC-X prototype which will become Blue Origin have done. People can spend an awful lot of time arguing about the semantics, but in the end it doesn't matter how the

    • I meet the definition of VTOL capable as well. Still need to work on reaching that 100 km though.
  • Actually (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Xiph ( 723935 ) on Tuesday July 25, 2006 @07:52AM (#15775105)
    The only spacecraft EVER which have NOT been vtol are the shuttles, the russion ones are retired and dead and the american ones have had their share of problems lately.

    While the news of how they intend to do this, i think as someone stated above me, the real question is whether you can call it a spaceshuttle when it's only designed to go to weightlessness and return.
    Yes it gives a spacelike feeling, but it's not useful for putting up satelites, not possible to go to spacestations with it, from my point of view, it's just a step up from a parabolic flight, but it's not more a spacecraft, than a tow ferry is a ship.

    PS. i wish i had one :)
    • The only spacecraft EVER which have NOT been vtol are the shuttles, the russion ones are retired and dead and the american ones have had their share of problems lately.

      I can think of a few other non-VTOL spacecraft. The Pegasus [orbital.com] rocket (in active use today), some other Spaceship One [wikipedia.org], or even some of the early US ASAT [wikipedia.org].
      • If you completely disregard the part of my post past the first line, then i guess you have a valid point.

        The thing is, that i perfectly clearly state that I don't consider going to 100 km (or 62 miles) to be going to space, because nothing orbits that low.

        An orbital rocket that's launched from underbelly of a fighterjet is a warhead, not a spacecraft. I don't consider a bullet to be an aeroplane either.

  • "Just like God and Robert A. Heinlein intended!"

    Man -- I wish I was the one who'd thought that one up....
  • The fact is, I will only be into the idea of traveling to space in a craft that reaches orbit. The idea of basically riding in a ship, basically going straight up, and then falling back down again, just does not interest me at all. They will have trouble filling seats 52 times a year, I think.

    But build me an orbiting hotel - and I'm there.
    • Ever seen downhill (skiing|biking)? Not much point in that either. Yet people seem to be enjoying it tremendously :) I myself love the descent parts of cross country biking. btw. Most forms of biking does not include a destination among its goals...
    • While it would be nice to have a VTOL rocket craft that can reach Earth orbit, I think there will be more uses for this thing than people let on.

      The Redstone rocket was far from capable of achieving orbit -- it was pretty much straight up and back down as you say. Wiley Ley writes that the Redstone in its missile application didn't have range beyond 200 miles. But what the Hunstville people did was put a cluster of solid-fuel rocket stages on top of it, and not only could they reproduce the flight path

  • My guess is Blue Origin VTOL vehicle will be using powered vertical landing like the DC-X - Delta Clipper design. While this design is not revolutionary it has some benefits, however there is a lot of wasted space since fuel needs for landing needs to be carried into orbit and back, water landings seem pretty much free to me. Also there have been some spectacular failures with this design... engine re-ignition is always a tricky one.
  • Yeah, good idea... The ship will have to bring back enough fuel to be able to do a soft touch down. Imagine the explosion when sth goes wrong during landing. Let's say during atmospheric reentry.
  • In case you'd rather read the draft yourself, instead of depending upon Fox's analysis, here's a link to the draft environmental assissment. [faa.gov]. Warning, it is a 229 page PDF. The exec. summary, however, is only 11 pages.
  • Sure it's not orbital. But the Wright Brothers didn't fly across the ocean in their first plane. Prop planes preceeded (sp?) jet planes. Once this starts getting popular and well developed, and it sounds like it will be a *very* fast way to get from point A to point B a long farging way aways, the design will be improved on. People will think of augmentations to it. Common use of it will inspire the next stage up from that. It's not a SSTOVTOL but it's getting there.

    *Single Stage To Orbit Vertical Take-O
  • Everyone is locked on to VTOL, but that's not the real breakthrough here. The thing that is completely new is the idea of selling tickets to ride in an unpiloted vehicle of any sort.

    There has never, ever, been a flying vehicle carrying humans that didn't have a pilot with at least some control of the craft onboard.

    The big thing about this vehicle isn't that is VTOL, it is that will be the first ever passenger rated UAV.

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