VAN HORN, Texas, July 20 (Reuters) – Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, is scheduled to take off on his company’s Blue Origin’s on Tuesday. New Shepherd launcher for suborbital flight as part of a historic crew – another milestone in the start of a new era of private space travel.
The US billionaire is set to fly from a desert site in West Texas for an 11-minute trip to the edge of space, nine days after Britain’s Richard Branson was aboard his company’s successful suborbital maiden flight space tourism competitor Virgin Galactic departing from New Mexico.
Branson went to space first, but Bezos is expected to fly higher – 62 miles (100 km) for Blue Origin versus 53 miles (86 km) for Virgin Galactic – in what experts are calling the the first in the world unmanned space flight with a fully civilian crew.
Bezos, founder of e-commerce juggernaut Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O), and his brother and private equity manager Mark Bezos will be joined in the robbery by two others. Pioneer aviator Wally Funk, 82, and recent high school graduate Oliver Daemen, 18, are expected to become the oldest and youngest people to reach space.
“I’m excited, but not anxious. We’ll see how I feel when I’m strapped to my seat,” Bezos said in an interview with Fox Business Network on Monday. “… We are ready. The vehicle is ready. This team is amazing. I feel very good with them. And I think my teammates are feeling good too.”
Funk was part of the Mercury 13 women’s group who trained to be NASA astronauts in the early 1960s, but was ignored due to her gender.
Daemen, Blue Origin’s first paying customer, is expected to attend Utrecht University in the Netherlands to study the physics and management of innovation in September. His father runs the Somerset Capital Partners investment management firm.
Barring technical or weather-related delays, New Shepard is expected to take off around 8:00 a.m. CDT (1:00 p.m. GMT) from the Blue Origin launch site approximately 20 miles from the rural town of Van Horn, Texas.
New Shepard is an 18.3-meter-tall, fully self-contained rocket-capsule combo that cannot be flown from inside the spacecraft. It is fully computer controlled and will have no astronauts or qualified Blue Origin personnel on board.
In contrast, Virgin Galactic used a space plane with a pair of pilots on board.
New Shepard will hurtle down at speeds of up to 2,200 miles (3,540 km) per hour at an altitude of about 62 miles (100 km), the so-called Kármán Line defined by an international aeronautical body as defining the border between l earth atmosphere and space.
During the flight, the crew will unwind for a few minutes of weightlessness and gaze at the curvature of the Earth through what Blue Origin calls the largest windows ever used in space travel. Then, the capsule falls back to Earth under parachutes, thanks to a last-minute back-thrust system that expels an “air cushion” for a soft landing at 1 mph (1.6 km / h) in the desert. from Texas.
The reusable thruster must return to the launch pad using drag brakes and annular and wedge fins for stabilization.
Tuesday’s launch marks another milestone in the “billionaire race” to establish a space tourism industry that Swiss investment bank UBS says will grow to $ 3 billion a year within a decade. Another billionaire tech mogul, Elon Musk, plans to send an all-civilian crew on an even more ambitious flight in September: a multi-day orbital mission on his Crew Dragon capsule.
On Twitter, Musk wish Blue Origin’s crew “good luck” for the launch.
Blue Origin did not provide details on its long-term pricing strategy or how quickly it will increase the frequency of its launches. General manager Bob Smith said the next flight will likely be in September or October. Smith said “the willingness to pay continues to be quite high” for those interested in future flights.
The company seems to have a reservoir of future customers. More than 6,000 people from at least 143 countries took part in an auction to become the first paying customer, although the winner of the auction which bid for $ 28 million ultimately abandoned Tuesday’s theft.
Bezos, who founded Blue Origin in 2000, has a net worth of $ 206 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He stepped down this month as CEO of Amazon, but remains its executive chairman.
Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Van Horn, Texas; Additional reporting Radhika Anilkumar; Editing by Will Dunham
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