The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said on Monday it approved a Blue Origin license to carry humans on the New Shepard launch system into space.
Former Amazon.com Chief Executive Jeff Bezos is set to fly to the edge of space on Blue Origin’s maiden crewed voyage on July 20.
Blue Origin is authorized to carry humans while its FAA license is valid through August and is approved to conduct these missions from its Launch Site One facility in Texas, the agency confirmed.
Blue Origin was required to verify its launch vehicle’s hardware and software worked safely during a test flight and the FAA confirmed it met regulatory requirements.
Blue Origin’s flight will come a little over a week after space-tourism rival Virgin Galactic successfully sent a crew including its founder, British billionaire Richard Branson, to the edge of space.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, as well as the space firm founded by rival billionaire Elon Musk, are working to usher in a new era of routine commercial civilian space travel in what has been popularized as the “billionaire space race.”
Proving rocket travel is safe for the public is key to developing what the Swiss-based investment bank UBS estimates will be a $3 billion annual space tourism market in a decade.
Jeff Bezos, world’s richest man, carries out inaugural space voyage
Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, and three crewmates soared high above the Texas desert aboard his space venture Blue Origin‘s New Shepard launch vehicle on Tuesday and returned safely to Earth, a historic suborbital flight that helps to inaugurate a new era of private commercial space tourism.
The spacecraft ignited its BE-3 engines for a liftoff from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One facility about 20 miles (32 km) outside the rural town of Van Horn, flying about 66.5 miles (107 km) above the planet’s surface. There were generally clear skies with a few patchy clouds on a cool morning for the launch.
The 57-year-old American billionaire flew on a voyage lasting about 10 minutes and 20 seconds to the edge of space, nine days after Briton Richard Branson was aboard his competing space tourism company Virgin Galactic’s successful inaugural suborbital flight from New Mexico.
New Shepard was designed to hurtle at speeds upwards of 2,200 miles (3,540 km) per hour to an altitude beyond the so-called Kármán line – 62 miles (100 km) – set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.
After the capsule separates from the booster, the crew was due to have unbuckled for a few minutes of weightlessness. Then the capsule returned to Earth under parachutes, using a last-minute retro-thrust system that expelled a “pillow of air” for a soft landing in the Texas desert.
Bezos gave a thumbs-up sign from inside the capsule after landing on the desert floor before stepping out, wearing a cowboy hat and blue flight suit, and giving company employees high fives.
The mission was part of a fiercely competitive battle between Bezos’ Blue Origin and fellow billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic to tap a potentially lucrative space tourism market the Swiss bank UBS estimates will be worth $3 billion annually in a decade.
Bezos and the other passengers climbed into an SUV vehicle for a short drive to the launch pad before walking up a tower and getting aboard the gleaming white spacecraft, with a blue feather design on its side. Each passenger rang a shiny bell before boarding the craft’s capsule.
Branson got to space first, but Bezos was due to fly higher – 62 miles (100 km) for Blue Origin compared to 53 miles (86 km) for Virgin Galactic – in what experts call the world’s first unpiloted space flight with an all-civilian crew. It represents Blue Origin’s first crewed flight to space.
Bezos, founder of ecommerce company Amazon.com Inc, and his brother Mark Bezos, a private equity executive, were joined by two others. Pioneering female aviator Wally Funk, 82, and recent high school graduate Oliver Daemen, 18, become the oldest and youngest people to reach space.
Bezos embraced Funk after the landing.
The flight coincides with the anniversary of Americans Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin becoming the first humans to walk on the moon, on July 20, 1969. New Shepard is named for Alan Shepard, who in 1961 became the first American in space.
Funk was one of the so-called Mercury 13 group of women who trained to become NASA astronauts in the early 1960s but was passed over because of her gender. Daemen, Blue Origin’s first paying customer, is set to study physics and innovation management in the Netherlands. His father, who heads investment management firm Somerset Capital Partners, was on site to watch his son fly to space.
The launch was witnessed by members of the Bezos family and Blue Origin employees, and a few spectators gathered along the highway before dawn. Spectators applauded during the flight.
MINUTES OF WEIGHTLESSNESS
New Shepard is a 60-foot-tall (18.3-meters-tall) and fully autonomous rocket-and-capsule combo that cannot be piloted from inside the spacecraft. It is completely computer-flown and had none of Blue Origin’s staff astronauts or trained personnel onboard.
Virgin Galactic used a spaceplane with a pair of pilots on board.
The reusable Blue Origin booster had previously flown twice to space.
The launch represented another step in the race to establish a space tourism sector that Swiss investment bank UBS estimates will reach $3 billion annually in a decade. Another billionaire tech mogul, Elon Musk, plans to send an all-civilian crew on a several-day orbital mission on his Crew Dragon capsule in September.
On Twitter, Musk wished the Blue Origin crew “best of luck” hours before the launch.
Blue Origin aims for the first of two more passenger flights this year to happen in September or October.
Blue Origin appears to have a reservoir of future customers. More than 6,000 people from at least 143 countries entered an auction to become the first paying customer. The auction winner, who made a $28 million bid, dropped out of Tuesday’s flight, opening the way for Daemen. Virgin Galactic has said 600 people have booked reservations, priced at about $250,000 per ticket.
Branson has said he aims ultimately to lower the price to about $40,000 per seat.
Bezos has a net worth of $206 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires. He stepped down this month as Amazon CEO but remains its executive chairman.
Billionaire Branson soars to space aboard Virgin Galactic flight
Shenzhou-12 astronauts enter space station core module
Three Chinese astronauts on board the Shenzhou-12 spaceship entered the country’s space station core module Tianhe on Thursday, according to the China Manned Space Agency.
At 18:48 Beijing Time, Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo entered Tianhe hours after the spaceship successfully docked with the core module.
The trio will stay in space for three months and start their work as planned.
China on Thursday morning successfully launched spacecraft Shenzhou-12 with three astronauts to its space station core module Tianhe.
It is China‘s seventh manned mission to space and the first in the process of building China‘s space station. It is also the first in nearly five years after the country’s last manned mission.
The spacecraft, carried by a Long March-2F carrier rocket, was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China‘s Gobi Desert at 09:22 Beijing Time.
The spacecraft completed orbital status setting after entering the orbit and conducted a fast autonomous rendezvous and docking with the front docking port of Tianhe at 15:54 Beijing Time, forming a three-module complex with the cargo craft Tianzhou-2.
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