A Tour to Space? Blue Origin’s New Shephard is on the Way
A new milestone achieved by New Shephard in space tourism
Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos’s space company called Blue Origin concluded the online auction for the first seat on New shephard, a rocket system meant to take tourists to space. Over 7,600 people registered from 159 countries to bid for this seat, which ultimately went for a winning bid of $28 million. The Bezos-backed venture began test flights on New Shepard in 2016. By December 2017, it had completed six straight successful tests. Company officials said its most recent test flight, launched April 14, was significant because it featured personnel entering and exiting the capsule as a rehearsal for human flight. No staff members, however, remained on board for the launch. “For the first time, Blue Origin personnel standing in as astronauts entered the capsule before launch,” the company said in test flight notes. “Following the crew capsule landing, the astronauts rehearsed post-flight procedures, hatch opening, and exiting the capsule.” In 2018, Blue Origin was one of the ten companies selected by NASA to conduct studies and advance technologies to collect, process, and use space-based resources for missions to the Moon and Mars. In 2019, both signed an agreement that gives Blue Origin permission to use NASA’s historic test stand, as a part of a growing number of partnerships between the space agency and the commercial space industry.
The Origin of Space Tourism
In 2018, Blue Origin was one of the ten companies selected by NASA to conduct studies and advance technologies to collect, process, and use space-based resources for missions to the Moon and Mars. In 2019, both signed an agreement that gives Blue Origin permission to use NASA’s historic test stand, as a part of a growing number of partnerships between the space agency and the commercial space industry. Bezos, however, has competition in the emerging space-tourism industry. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is expected to begin trips to space early next year. Tickets are more than $250,000 each and the company has reportedly sold more than 600. Virgin Galactic last month revealed the VSS Imagine, one of many spacecraft it plans to use for space tourism.
The Mechanism behind New Shephard
The rocket system consists of two parts, the cabin or capsule, and the rocket or the booster. The cabin can accommodate experiments from small Mini Payloads up to 100 kg. As per Blue Origin, the Mini Payloads provide easier space access to students, who are part of educational institutions that are developing their space programs, “for less than the price of new football uniforms”. Further, the cabin is designed for six people and sits atop a 60 feet tall rocket and separates from it before crossing the Karman line, after which both vehicles fall back to the Earth. All the six seats in the capsule are meant for passengers, each of whom gets their window seat. The capsule is fully autonomous and does not require a pilot. The New shephard system is a fully reusable, vertical takeoff and vertical landing space vehicle that accelerates for about 2.5 minutes before the engine cuts off. After separating from the booster, the capsule free falls in space, while the booster performs an autonomously controlled vertical landing back to Earth. The capsule, on the other hand, lands back with the help of parachutes.