JUST IN: Blue Origin successfully completes fourth space tourism mission

Here are the details of the mission

Originally posted: MAR 31 22 07:16 ET

Updated: 31 MAR 22 10:12 ET

By Jackie Wattles, CNN Business

(CNN) – Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has just launched its fourth successful space tourism mission, putting yet another feather in the cap for the company that hopes to make these supersonic rides a mainstay of pop culture.

The six passengers, including a Blue Origin engineer and five paying customers, boarded their New Shepard capsule just after sunrise Thursday at the company’s West Texas launch facility. Propelled by a 60-foot-tall rocket, they soared at more than three times the speed of sound, or more than 2,000 miles per hour. Their capsule passed the Kármán line at 100 kilometers (or 62 miles) in altitude, which is widely recognized as the altitude at which outer space begins. And at the height of the flight, they experienced a few minutes of weightlessness and, through the window, vast earthly views.

It is unclear how much the trip cost the five paying customers. Blue Origin has not publicly disclosed a fixed price per seat, although it auctioned off a ticket for $28 million. But it was for a seat to ride alongside Bezos himself, and the auction winner didn’t end up going. (It’s expected to fly later this year, though.) Blue Origin’s direct competitor, Virgin Galactic, is currently selling seats for $450,000, up from its previous price of around $250,000.

That flight was supposed to include Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson, but he scrapped the mission after Blue Origin announced a schedule change earlier this month. The company cited the need for additional ground testing on the New Shepard rocket as the reason for the delay.

Gary Lai, who has worked for Blue Origin for 18 years and holds several patents related to the New Shepard rocket design, flew in place of Davidson and was the only non-paying customer on the flight. Lai’s teammates included Marty Allen, an investor and former CEO of a party supply store; Jim Kitchen, entrepreneur and business professor; George Nield, former Associate Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation; Marc Hagle, an Orlando real estate developer, and his wife, Sharon Hagle, who founded a space-focused nonprofit.

The fully autonomous New Shepard passenger capsule deployed plumes of parachutes after plunging back into the thickest part of Earth’s atmosphere and landing with a puff of sand in the Texas desert.

What does all this mean?

Commercial activity in space – largely led by SpaceX – is booming. From building cheaper rockets to designing new uses for satellites to imagining futuristic space hotels, the industry has attracted record levels of investment, according to data gathered by the analytics firm. SpaceCapital.

After years of quiet development, Blue Origin’s space tourism rocket made its crewed debut last year with Bezos, flying alongside space community hero Wally Funk and her brother Mark Bezos. and a paying customer.

Since then, Blue Origin has made headlines for piloting other well-known names on two subsequent flights, including Star Trek star William Shatner and Good Morning America host Michael Strahan.

Strahan wrote a message for passengers on Thursday’s flight that was read to them by ground control: “This is the best ride you’ll ever have, but it’s far too short.”

Blue Origin’s goal is to make these suborbital spaceflights a mainstay of pop culture, offering a 10-minute supersonic ride to guests – who until now have been mostly celebrities – and anyone else who has the means.

Blue Origin is the first company to offer scheduled suborbital space tourism flights. Its main competitor, Virgin Galactic, notably made its first crewed flight – which included founder Richard Branson – before Bezos flew last July. But Virgin Galactic has yet to follow up that flight with another crewed flight after it later became clear the company’s spaceplane had deviated from its designated flight path. The company now says it is undergoing independent technology upgrades and could resume flying later this year.

SpaceX is the only private company that offers orbital travel. The company conducted the first-ever all-civilian flight into orbit last September, taking a billionaire and three of his chosen crewmates on a three-day trip. And next week, the company plans to take four paying customers on a flight to the International Space Station, which orbits about 200 miles above Earth.

Blue Origin plans to build a rocket powerful enough to reach orbit, called New Glenn. And, in light of the news that Russia can no longer sell rocket engines to the United States, those plans are more urgent than ever. The engines Blue Origin plans to use for the New Glenn, the BE-4, will also be used on a future launch vehicle designed by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that is responsible for major national security launches in the United States. United States. ULA currently relies on Russian RD-180 engines. Its new rocket with US-made BE-4 engines is set to debut this year.

Blue Origin did not have specific updates on BE-4 when contacted for comment.

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