This 2015 photograph courtesy of Blue Origin shows Jeff Origin, founder of Blue Origin, at the New Shepard launch facility in West Texas before the rocket’s maiden voyage. The two companies leading the group in space tourism research say they are a few months away from their first passenger flights out of this world, although neither has set a firm date. Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Blue Origin, by Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, compete to be the first to finish the tests, with the two companies using radically different technology.
Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, joins the astronaut club on Tuesday in the first baggage launch of Blue Origin, another key moment in a big month for the fledgling space tourism industry.
The mission comes days after Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson crossed the final border, narrowly beating the Amazon tycoon in the battle of the billionaires.
Views of Blue Origin are, however, higher – literally in terms of altitude at which its reusable New Shepard spacecraft will ascend compared to Virgin’s spacecraft, but also in its future ambitions.
Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000, with the goal of one day building floating space colonies with artificial gravity where millions of people will work and live.
Today, the company is developing a heavy-duty orbital rocket called New Glenn and also a Moon lander that it hopes to contract with NASA under the Artemis program.
“They’ve had 15 unmanned flights from New Shepard successfully and we’ve been waiting years to see when people will start flying,” Laura Forczyk, founder of space consultancy Astralytical, told AFP, calling it an “exciting moment.” ”For enthusiasts.
New Shepard will explode at 8:00 a.m. Central Time (1:00 p.m. GMT) on July 20 from a remote facility in the West Texas Desert called Launch Site One, about 40 miles away. north of the nearest town, Van Horn.
The event will be played live on BlueOrigin.com from an hour and a half before.
– Richer, older and younger –
Joining Bezos on the fully autonomous flight, 82-year-old female aviator Wally Funk will be the oldest astronaut ever, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, the first customer to pay the company and become in the youngest astronaut.
Completing the four-member crew is Jeff Bezos ’brother Mark, a financier who runs the Bezos Family Foundation and works as a volunteer firefighter.
The couple is best friends and Jeff shared the moment he asked his little brother to join him in a viral video on Instagram last month.
The mysterious winner of a $ 28 million auction for a seat is absent, who had “scheduling conflicts” and will participate in a future flight and has asked to remain anonymous, the company said.
After takeoff, New Shepard will accelerate into space at speeds in excess of Mach 3 using a carbon-free liquid hydrogen / liquid oxygen engine.
The capsule soon separates from its reinforcement and the astronauts fall apart and begin to experience weightlessness.
The crew will spend a few minutes beyond the Karman line, the internationally recognized boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and space, at 100 kilometers altitude, as the spacecraft reaches 106 kilometers in height.
They will be able to admire the curvature of the planet – and the black of the rest of the universe – from large windows that cover a third of the cabin surface.
The reinforcement returns autonomously to a runway just north of its launch site, while the capsule falls back to Earth before deploying three giant parachutes and finally a propellant, to land gently in the desert of the West Texas.
– Biggest awards –
Beyond the first flight, relatively little is known about Blue Origin’s future tourism plans.
The company has a history of secrecy, its existence only becomes public knowledge three years after its creation. He then pursued a policy of “self-imposed silence” until 2015.
Unlike Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin has not officially started selling tickets: Daemen earned his place through the auction process. The company wants two more flights this year, and then “many more” in 2022, it told AFP.
Analyst Forczyk said everything will depend on the level of demand generated by these early flights and the recovery of the accident industry “which will inevitably be there, because space flights are intrinsically risky.”
Elon Musk’s SpaceX will enter the fight in September with a fully civilian orbital expedition to its crew dragon and is linking up with another company, Axiom, to visit the International Space Station.
Beyond tourism, Blue Origin would like to supplant SpaceX as a major partner in NASA’s private sector and sees New Shepard as “a kind of stone and also the way to make money along the way to achieve greater ambition,” Forczyk said.