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Ready for a Ride? Blue Origin Still on Track to Take Tourists to Space by 2018

Oct 26, 2016 06:01 AM EDT
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After successfully completing its in-flight escape system test on the New Shepard rocket, Blue Origin is still on schedule to take tourists to space by 2018.

"This test got us one step closer to human spaceflight," Blue Origin president Rob Meyerson said at the 2016 International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) on Oct. 13, Space.com reports. "We're still on track for flying people - our test astronauts - by the end of 2017, and then starting commercial flights in 2018."

Blue Origin, a private space company led by Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos, designed the New Shepard spacecraft, which consists of a reusable rocket and a capsule, to fly tourists to suborbital space 62 miles above the Earth to experience microgravity and view the curvature of the planet.

On Oct. 5, the company has passed the crucial in-flight escape test for New Shepard, blasting off from its test range in West Texas. According to Bezos, the test was the "toughest trial" of the spacecraft to date and Blue Origin officials had expected the test to end up in a fiery explosion. But the test was completed as planned: the capsule separated from the rocket and ignited its onboard escape motor, and then landing safely under parachutes. The booster came in for a vertical landing back at the launch site.

According to Blue Origin's website, passengers are expected to experience three times the force of gravity (3Gs) for about 2 minutes as the booster accelerates into space. After this, the spacecraft will slow down, allowing passengers to float around the cabin and view the Earth from New Shepard's windows. During descent, passengers will experience five times the force of gravity (5Gs) before coming in to land under parachutes.

The company has not yet disclosed how much a ticket ride to the New Shepard would cost. But officials said they hope to start flying tourists by 2018 and conduct crewed tests early next year. Virgin Galactic, a rival of Blue Origin, charges about $250,000 for a suborbital rocket ride.

The company also revealed the design of its monster rocket, New Glenn, which will compete with SpaceX's Falcon 9 and launch cargo and people into orbit. It is also working on a larger rocket, the New Armstrong, which will take humans to Mars.

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