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Before Elon Musk’s Space X and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, there was Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. Founded in September 2000, the privately owned space flight company is getting very close to landing a rocket on the ground safely, which is the roadblock that all three establishments are currently facing.

With each successful test flight and the launch of the New Shepard program, Bezos has slowly started to unveil bits and pieces of his elaborate space exploration plans to the public. But is it enough to win the commercial space flight race?

Charon and Goddard

Before the New Shepard, Blue Origin built two test vehicles named Charon and Goddard. Charon was designed during the early stages of rocket development. Instead of standard boosters, the transporter packed quad Rolls-Royce Viper Mk. 301 jet engines. The company used it to test new guidance and control features. Charon’s only documented test flight was on March 5, 2005.

Goddard, better known as PM1, held many firsts for the company. It was the first unit to take part in rigorous testing under the New Shepard program. This was also the first time Bezos became vocal about Blue Origin (he personally updates the company blog and routinely signs off using the official slogan). The space vehicle flew four recorded flights and reached an altitude of 285 feet.

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Milestones with the New Shepard

In April 29, 2015, the Blue Origin launched a test flight using its suborbital spacecraft, the New Shepard. The demonstration was a success and confirmed that the company has the technology to start a commercial space flight service.

Running on the BE-3 engine, the vehicle plowed through Mach 3 at blistering speeds. The propulsion module separated from the crew capsule in a timely manner and the second piece slowly made its way to the ground using gigantic parachutes. There were some problems with the descent, which the company openly admitted.

The New Shepard was only four miles short of the 62 miles needed to breakthrough the Earth-space boundary. Overall, the trial flight was a step forward for the Blue Origin.

“In fact, if New Shepard had been a traditional expendable vehicle, this would have been a flawless first test flight. Of course one of our goals is reusability, and unfortunately we didn’t get to recover the propulsion module because we lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent,” highlighted Bezos.

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What’s Next?

Blue Origin has several exciting plans for future test flights. New collaboration projects with NASA are also expected (the institution funded the company in 2009). Bezos dropped hints that other space vehicles are being developed, possibly much larger units that can support a more robust engine and take orbit around the Earth (fingers crossed).

“We’re working, patiently and step-by-step, to lower the cost of spaceflight so that many people can afford to go; and so that we humans can better continue exploring the Solar System. Accomplishing this mission will take a long time, and we’re working on it methodically,” Bezos wrote on the Blue Origin blog.

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