Amazon-owned Jeff Bezos is not planning to deliver customer orders by rocket anytime soon, but his Blue Origin family of rockets will add a well-funded private enterprise competitor to Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
On April 29th a Blue Origin ‘New Shepard’ reusable rocket lifted a ‘crew’ of a mannequin plus experimental packages to a height of 106 kms (66 miles), and brought everything back to Earth. The test flight was designed to mimic real-life tasks in terms of payload pressures, vibrations, acceleration and acoustics and how the payloads themselves performed.
The mannequin dummy was designed to replicate the planned 6-passenger flights on ‘space tourism’ escapades. To help sell seats the capsule has large windows for maximum visibility of the Earth below and the 100+kms height is generally considered to be the very edge of space.
Those payloads were very real and supplied by assorted bodies including NASA’s Johnson Space Centre, the University of Bayreuth, the Otto von Guericke University, Germany’s Space Agency and the University of Duisburg-Essen.
The flight was the highest achieved by a New Shepard rocket, and the vehicle itself had been launched before. The flight took place from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site, and landed flawlessly exactly onto its pad. The overall flight lasted 10 minutes.
While this particular suite of rockets is designed for sub-orbital flights, the next generation (New Glenn) will also be reusable, and carry satellites, cargo and even passengers onto full orbital missions. These should start in the early 2020s.