The billionaire American businessman Jeff Bezos and his three crewmates took an intensive training course on Sunday to prepare for the inaugural flight of his company Blue Origin to the edge of space, scheduled for this Tuesday.
The mission comes days after Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson crossed the final frontier, narrowly beating the Amazon mogul in their battle of billionaires.
However, Blue Origin’s sights are set higher: both literally in terms of the altitude to which its reusable New Shepard spacecraft will climb compared to Virgin’s space plane, and in its future ambitions.
Where to watch the New Shepard takeoff live?
The New Shepard will lift off on July 20 at 8:00 a.m. (1300 GMT) from a remote facility in the West Texas desert called Launch Site One, about 25 miles north of the nearest city, Van Horn.
Taking part in the planned 11-minute trip from the company’s Launch Site One facility will be the oldest person to ever go into space – pioneering aviator Wally Funk, 82 – and the youngest – physics student Oliver Daemen, 18 years old. Joining them at the Blue Origin launch will be Bezos, founder and current CEO of Amazon.com Inc, and his brother Mark Bezos.
The big absentee from the crew is the mystery winner of a $28 million auction for a seat, who had “scheduling conflicts” and will take part in a future flight, and who has asked to remain anonymous, the company said.
First pilotless flight into space
The mission would represent the first pilotless flight into space with an entirely civilian crew. Blue Origin, which will not carry any of its staff astronauts or trained personnel on board, expressed confidence in a briefing on Sunday.
“We are not currently working on any open issues and New Shepard is ready to fly,” flight director Steve Lanius said, adding that the weather forecast looked favorable for the scheduled 8 a.m. takeoff. CDT (1300 GMT) on Tuesday.
What is planned after takeoff?
After liftoff, New Shepard will accelerate into space at speeds over Mach 3 using a carbon-neutral liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine.
The capsule soon separates from its booster and the astronauts unbuckle and begin to experience weightlessness.
The crew will spend a few minutes beyond the Karman Line – the internationally recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space, at 62 miles (100 kilometers) – as the spacecraft reaches its peak at 65 miles (106 kilometers). ).
They will be able to admire the curvature of the planet from the large windows that cover a third of the surface of the cabin.
The booster autonomously returns to a landing pad north of its launch site, while the capsule freefalls back to Earth before deploying three giant parachutes, and finally a booster, to land softly in the western desert of Texas.
Blue Origin’s future tourism plans
The company has a history of secrecy, and its existence was not made public until three years after its creation.
Unlike Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin has not officially started selling tickets: Daemen won his place through the auction process. The company wants to carry out two more flights this year, and then “many more” in 2022, he told AFP.
Forczyk, the analyst, said it would all depend on the level of demand generated by these first flights, and how well the industry recovers from accidents “which there will inevitably be because spaceflight is inherently risky.”
Elon Musk’s SpaceX will enter the fray in September with an all-civilian orbital expedition on its Crew Dragon and is teaming up with another company, Axiom, for visits to the International Space Station.