Blue Origin's permission to launch its billionaire founder Jeff Bezos and three other passengers to the edge of space next Tuesday was accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration. The agency removed the final regulatory hurdle for this month's second billionaire space entrepreneur to fly into space.
On July 20th, Blue Origin will launch its first crew of humans atop its suborbital New Shepard rocket, which will take off from a remote desert site in Van Horn, Texas. The FAA granted New Shepard a license to fly humans on Monday night. The license is good until August and was granted after a thorough examination of New Shepard's hardware and software.
"New Shepard is go for launch," Blue Origin said in a statement on Monday just before the license approval was complete. Liftoff is scheduled for 9 a.m. ET on Tuesday, with a live company broadcast beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET on YouTube. It will be the 16th launch for New Shepard, with the most recent test in April serving as an uncrewed astronaut practice.
New Shepard Ready To Launch
On Sunday, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin's space tourism rival, blasted its billionaire founder Richard Branson and three other firm employees into orbit. Branson was initially scheduled to go on a later trip. But The Verge said he had bumped ahead in a not-so-subtle attempt to beat Bezos to space by nine days. Another The Verge report claimed Blue Origin responded with humor and sass. The company shared an infographic on social media comparing New Shepard to Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo spaceplane just days before the flight.
From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name. For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km up at the internationally recognized Kármán line. pic.twitter.com/QRoufBIrUJ— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 9, 2021
The FAA license clearance for Virgin Galactic to fly Branson came 16 days before the flight on July 11th, while Blue Origin's came a week before Bezos' flight. Virgin uses a different approach to bring its passengers to space: SpaceShipTwo took off from a New Mexico runway tethered to a carrier jet, then dropped to 45,000 feet before firing up its rocket engine and blasting out into space, some 53.5 miles above land (the altitude that NASA and the FAA consider space). After floating in microgravity for a few minutes, Branson and his crew landed safely on the same runway in New Mexico.
Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket is a six-story-tall suborbital launcher that launches a gumdrop-shaped crew capsule to a height of 62 miles, which many countries regard to be space. The rocket booster returns for a vertical landing while the crew capsule floats back to land behind parachutes after a few minutes in microgravity.
A Very Special July for Space
Bezos, his brother Mark, an aviation legend and astronaut candidate Wally Funk, and an unidentified fourth passenger who paid $28 million for their seat through an auction will be on board New Shepard for the voyage on July 20th, the 50th anniversary of the first human landing on the Moon.
The FAA license regulates the safety of individuals and buildings on the ground in the vicinity of Blue Origin's launch site, not the safety of passengers on board. The FAA is now prohibited from regulating spaceflight passenger safety under current US law, a limitation that was enacted years ago to allow the young commercial space sector to innovate. As a result, Blue Origin, like every other space business that launches humans into space, requires passengers to sign "informed consent" documents stating that they are aware of the risks of sending a rocket into orbit.
"Shaping up to be a very special July for the space!" Blue Origin's sales director Clay Mowry tweeted.
Check out more news and information on Space in Science Times.