Nine days after Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, the richest man on the planet, is about to take off on Tuesday for the first manned flight of his company Blue Origin, a new pivotal moment for the burgeoning space tourism industry .
On July 11, it was Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, who crossed the confines of the earth's atmosphere, topping the Amazon mogul in this battle of billionaires.
More important goals
The aims of Blue Origin go beyond, however: literally first since the New Shepard rocket will reach a higher altitude than the Virgin Galactic ship, but also because the ambitions of Jeff Bezos do not stop there. In 2000, the founder of Amazon created Blue Origin with the goal, one day, of building floating space colonies, endowed with artificial gravity and where millions of people could work and live.
Today the company is developing a high thrust orbital rocket called New Glenn, but also a moon landing module in the hope of securing a contract with NASA and its Artemis program.
“They've made 15 successful unmanned flights from New Shepard and we've been waiting for years to see them take people away,” said Laura Forczyk, founder of space consulting firm Astralytical.
“It's an exhilarating time,” she says, for space fades.
The richest, the oldest, and the youngest
New Shepard will take off Tuesday at 8 a.m. (1 p.m. GMT) from an isolated site in the Western Desert of Texas. The event will be broadcast live on BlueOrigin.com, starting an hour and a half before the launch. Alongside Jeff Bezos on this fully autonomous flight will be his brother Mark as well as aviation pioneer Wally Funk, 82, and Blue Origin's first paying customer, an 18-year-old Dutchman Olivier Daemen, who will respectively become the oldest and youngest astronaut in history.
After take off, New Shepard will accelerate into space at speeds in excess of Mach 3 using an engine running on liquid hydrogen and oxygen, with no carbon emissions.
The capsule will then separate from its thruster, and neo-astronauts can unbuckle their belts to experience weightlessness.
The crew will thus spend a few minutes at an altitude of 106 km, or six kilometers beyond the Karman line, the internationally recognized limit between the Earth's atmosphere and space.
They will then be able to admire the curve of the blue planet, and the deep black of the rest of the universe, from large bay windows accounting for a third of the cabin area. The thruster will finally return autonomously to a landing area north of the launch site, while the capsule will perform a free fall before deploying three giant parachutes, then a back-thruster, and landing gently in the Texan desert.
After this first flight, Blue Origin's plans for space tourism remain quite mysterious.
The company is renowned for its secrecy, its existence not being made public until three years after its creation.
It then adopted a policy of "self-imposed silence" until 2015. Unlike Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin has not officially started selling space tickets, Oliver Daemen having won his seat in the auction.
NASA's next partner
The company has not announced how often it plans to take trips, although a spokesperson for Blue Origin said two more flights are planned this year, and the goal is to have "a lot more." "In 2022. According to Laura Forczyk, everything will depend on the demand generated by these first flights and the impact of accidents" which will inevitably occur, because space flight is inherently risky ".
Elon Musk's SpaceX company will join the space race in September with an orbital expedition made up entirely of civilians aboard his Crew Dragon rocket.
SpaceX has also teamed up with the company Axiom to take visitors aboard the International Space Station.
Beyond tourism, Blue Origin would like to supplant SpaceX as NASA's main private partner, and sees New Shepard as "a kind of springboard, and a means of financing towards higher ambitions", analyzes Laura Forczyk.
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