Just over a week after Richard Branson soars to the edge of space, fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos is ready for an equally important journey aboard his own rocket.
Bezos will attempt to fly into space on Tuesday, July 20, launching aboard a rocket and capsule developed by Blue Origin, the private space company of the founder of Amazon. This will be the first crewed launch of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, and if successful, Bezos will make history by participating in the first unmanned suborbital flight with a civilian crew.
Several other milestones can be set on the journey. Joining Bezos will be one passenger who will become the oldest person to reach space and one who will be the youngest.
Wally Funk, 82, is a former test pilot who was one of 13 Mercury women who trained in the 1960s to demonstrate that women could meet NASA standards for her astronaut corps. At 18, Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen could become the youngest astronaut. Bezos’ brother Mark completes the crew of four.
“Since I was five years old, I have dreamed of traveling to space,” Bezos wrote on June 7 in an Instagram post announcing the flight. “On July 20, I will be making this trip with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend. “
The New Shepard rocket is launched from a site in the West Texas desert, southeast of El Paso. Since this is a suborbital flight, the capsule will not orbit the Earth, but will instead reach the edge of space, at an altitude of about 65 miles, where passengers will live for several minutes. weightlessness.
The capsule will then descend under parachutes and land again in the Texas desert. The entire journey should take around 10 minutes.
The launch is an important step for Blue Origin, which is banking on a future market for high-priced space trips. Blue Origin hopes to begin operational flights with paying passengers in the near future, and although the company has not announced prices for individual tickets, they are expected to cost several hundred thousand dollars.
Bezos’ attempt to reach space comes after Branson participated in a risky July 11 test flight aboard a rocket-propelled vehicle developed by his private space company, Virgin Galactic. But unlike Virgin Galactic’s Unity spacecraft, the New Shepard rocket and capsule fly autonomously, with no pilots on board.
Blue Origin’s capsule is also designed to reach higher altitude than Virgin Galactic’s vehicle. The edge of space is often defined by the so-called Kármán line, at an altitude of 100 km. As the New Shepard capsule flies over the Kármán Line, the Virgin Galactic craft reached an altitude of about 53 miles during Branson’s flight.
This gap has fueled competition between rival billionaires, with Blue Origin officials suggesting Virgin Galactic flights are not actually reaching suborbital space.
Branson and his crew were eligible to receive their commercial astronaut wings, however, as the Federal Aviation Administration and the United States Air Force recognize the 50-mile space limit.
The Branson and Bezos flight could revive the space tourism industry, which so far has grown slowly over the past two decades, said Marco Caceres, space industry analyst at Teal Group Corporation. Private citizens have already paid for orbital flights to the International Space Station, but all have been launched aboard rockets and Soyuz capsules operated by the Russian Space Agency.
“For all intents and purposes, the space tourism industry doesn’t really exist right now,” he said. “This officially marks the start. “
In addition to the suborbital escapades of Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, Elon Musk’s company SpaceX is planning orbital tourist flights, starting with the first mission to space with a fully civilian crew this year.
Caceres said all of these tourism businesses could turn into a lucrative sector of the commercial spaceflight industry, but it will likely take time.
“If it’s a theft every few months, it’s not enough to create an industry,” he said. “But if these companies start to go out on a weekly basis and you start to see dozens or hundreds of these flights, that’s when you can feel it’s something real. “
Branson, Bezos, and Musk have all faced backlash for their private spaceflight aspirations, with some criticizing billionaire entrepreneurs for investing in frivolous and selfish ventures.
But such criticism is shortsighted, said Jim Cantrell, CEO of Phantom Space, an Arizona-based startup that aims to build and launch commercial satellites, and a former SpaceX executive.
“You can’t watch it in the context of this space jump,” Cantrell said. “You have to look at it in the context of the bigger picture. It used to be government dominated, but we have come to the point where individuals can do it. This is the hopeful and inspiring part of it all. “