Race to send tourists into orbit in 2018 begins
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space firm has confirmed that it is still on schedule to send paying customers into orbit as soon as 2018.
The company completed a crucial in-flight escape pod test on its New Shepard rocket last week.
“We’re still on track for flying people — our test astronauts — by the end of 2017, and then starting commercial flights in 2018,” said Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson, speaking at this week’s International Symposium on Commercial and Personal Spaceflight (ISPCS) in Las Cruces, New Mexico.
The New Shepard booster that flew to space and then landed vertically in November 2015 is pictured. “One of the fundamental tenets of Blue Origin is that the safest vehicle is one that is robust and well understood,” said Bezos
Last week’s test saw the rocket launched and the crew capsule ejected from the booster and falling to the ground slowly with parachutes.
The booster then successfully landed too, meaning the test was even more successful than the crew had hoped.
Mr. Meyerson confirmed this week that the company had been ‘pretty certain we were going to lose it’, so the booster’s survival was a big surprise.
Speaking at the ISPCS event, Mr. Meyerson also told attendees that the number of employees at Blue Origin had doubled in the past year – from 400 to 800 – and they were recruiting at a fast pace.
The New Shepard spacecraft has two main parts: the rocket booster, and a crew capsule on top.
The aim of the test was to recover the crew capsule. From the moment the astronauts are buckled in the crew capsule, escape is an option to get the capsule far away from the booster – like an airbag in a car.
After the pressure is at its maximum, the escape motor burnt out and the capsule was ejected. It then used parachutes to lower itself safely to the ground. The company said it would ideally be able to recover the booster, but the booster was likely to be lost in the tests.
Blue Origin carried out its successful escape pod test on October 5, 2016. “Nothing like a rocket and a countdown clock to get your heart going,” said the live launch’s narrator, before the rocket launched.
Blue Origin engineers had expected searing exhaust from the capsule’s motor would tip over the New Shepard rocket, causing it to shut down and then crash in a massive fireball in the desert.
When the capsule and booster successfully landed, the team was overjoyed.
Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin expects to begin crewed test flights of its reusable suborbital New Shepard vehicle next year and begin flying paying passengers in 2018, Bezos told reporters on Tuesday.
Bezos’ remarks, made during the first ever media tour of the Blue Origin manufacturing facility, marked the first time the billionaire founder of Amazon.com had put a target date on the start of the commercial space flights Blue Origin is developing.
“We’ll probably fly test pilots in 2017, and if we’re successful then I’d imagine putting paying astronauts on in 2018,” Bezos said at the sprawling plant south of Seattle
The company expects to build six New Shepard vehicles, which are designed to autonomously fly six passengers to more than 62 miles (100 km) above Earth, high enough to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the planet set against the blackness of space.
*Adapted from DailyMailUK Online