Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, is set to blast off onboard his company Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle for a suborbital flight as part of a history-making crew – another milestone in ushering in a new era of private space travel.
The US billionaire and Amazon founder is due to fly from a desert site in West Texas on a voyage nine days after British rival Richard Branson went on his competing space tourism company Virgin Galactic’s successful inaugural suborbital flight from New Mexico.
What time is lift-off?
Barring technical or weather-related delays, Bezos’s New Shepard is due to blast off at about 8am CDT (13:00 GMT) from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One facility about 32km outside the rural Texas town of Van Horn.
Will Bezos’s launch vehicle actually reach space?
Technically, New Shepard will only go as high as the edge of space, or the so-called Kármán line set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space. Still, at 100km altitude, Bezos is due to fly higher than Branson did at 86km.
Who will be flying the New Shepard?
The vehicle is a fully autonomous rocket-and-capsule combination that cannot be piloted from inside the spacecraft. It is completely computer-flown and will have none of Blue Origin’s staff astronauts or trained personnel onboard. Tuesday’s flight will be the world’s first unpiloted space flight with an all-civilian crew.
Who else will be joining on this flight?
Bezos, and his brother and private equity executive Mark Bezos, will be joined by two others. Pioneering aviator Wally Funk, 82, and recent high school graduate Oliver Daemen, 18, are set to become the oldest and youngest people to reach (the edge of) 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 attend the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands to study physics and innovation management in September. His father heads investment management firm Somerset Capital Partners.
How long will this journey last?
During the 11-minute flight, the crew will unbuckle for a few minutes of weightlessness and gaze back at the Earth’s curvature through what Blue Origin calls the largest windows ever used in space travel. Then, the capsule will fall back to Earth under parachutes, using a last-minute retro-thrust system that expels a “pillow of air” for a soft landing at 1.6 km/h in the Texas desert.
The reusable booster is due to return to the launch pad using drag brakes and ring and wedge fins for stabilisation.
Does this flight come with a liability insurance?
Bezos will launch into space without liability insurance, according to the New York Times.
While the New Shepard itself is most likely covered, brokers told the New York Times that neither Bezos nor Branson appeared to have bought coverage should they be hurt in their quest for space. However, Branson and Blue Origin declined or did not respond to questions about their insurance policies.