Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin launched a rocket that could make way for space-tourism flights this year

Blue OriginBlue Origin’s reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket launches toward space in 2016.
  • Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos, plans to attempt the 14th flight of its New Shepard rocket system on Thursday morning from West Texas.
  • The rocket has a capsule designed to fly six people beyond the unofficial boundary of space, or about 100 kilometers (62 miles) above Earth’s surface.
  • No human space tourists will fly aboard the capsule, but a crash-test dummy named “Mannequin Skywalker” will to record flight-experience data.
  • Blue Origin plans to stream live video of the launch attempt via YouTube starting about 11:30 a.m. ET on Thursday ahead of a 11:57 a.m. ET liftoff.
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Update (12:35 p.m. ET): Blue Origin tweeted that it completed “what looks to be a wholly successful mission” after launching the New Shepard rocket and landing the system’s space capsule, called “RSS First Step.” You can watch a replay of the company’s launch webcast below.

Blue Origin, founded by the Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, is about to launch a crash-test dummy beyond the edge of space, or about 100 kilometers (62 miles) above Earth’s surface.

This will be the 14th flight of the compact yet powerful New Shepard rocket, a reusable system designed to give well-heeled tourists the ride of their lives, which involves a few minutes of weightlessness and remarkable views of Earth and space.

NS-14, as the mission is called, is scheduled to lift off at 11:57 a.m. ET from the company’s Launch Site One in the desert near Van Horn, Texas. Blue Origin plans to broadcast live footage of the launch, embedded via YouTube below, starting about 11:30 a.m. ET.

“The capsule will be outfitted with upgrades to the crew capsule for the astronaut experience as the program nears human space flight,” Sara Blask, a spokesperson for Blue Origin, said in an email to Business Insider. “The upgrades include improvements to environmental features such as acoustics and temperature regulation inside the capsule, crew display panels, and speakers with a microphone and push-to-talk button at each seat.”

Read more: Meet the astronaut who may fly Tom Cruise to orbit on the first all-private space mission with SpaceX’s help

Eric Berger, Ars Technica’s senior space editor, said the capsule was brand new, not a model Blue Origin has previously flown, and would one day fly again with up to six people on board. The cost of each passenger’s ticket may exceed $US250,000, on par with the cost of Virgin Galactic’s suborbital flights planned by the billionaire Richard Branson.

“A successful flight tomorrow may bode well for human missions later this year,” Berger tweeted on Wednesday, later adding, “Putting human butts into seats invites a lot of risk, so understandably they want to be confident in their launch system. Reaching the point of regular human access to suborbital space will be big.”

New shepard space capsule interior blue origin 02Blue OriginInside Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule for suborbital space tourists.

But the space-analytics firm Astralytical predicted this week Blue Origin likely wouldn’t begin passenger service anytime soon. This is likely because of company’s careful culture, the firm said Tuesday, and the healthy bankrolling by Bezos, who liquidates about $US1 billion of his Amazon stock each year to fund the space company’s various programs.

“Blue Origin is in no rush to begin crewed commercial spaceflight operations. The company has yet to begin crewed test flights with its own employees, let along begin selling tickets,” Laura Forczyk, Astralytical’s founder, wrote in her analysis. She added there was “a moderately low likelihood” Bezos’ company would begin passenger flights within the next three years, though her company tweeted a successful NS-14 flight would improve its outlook.

The six-seat capsule will also put new “astronaut communication and safety alert systems” to the test, Blask said, and record a plethora of safety data via a crash-test dummy dubbed “Mannequin Skywalker” (which has previously flown on successful New Shepard missions). Stuffed in the dummy’s pockets will be a number of postcards sent to Blue Origin, primarily by kids, plus about 50,000 other cards elsewhere in the space capsule.

If all goes according to plan, the New Shepard rocket will blast off its launchpad about 11:57 a.m. ET, deploy the new space capsule a few minutes later, and relight its engine to hover to a landing on a concrete pad. This will allow Blue Origin to reuse the rocket or “tail” for future missions, saving millions of dollars in the process.

The capsule, meanwhile, will careen back to Earth after reaching an apex in its flight just past the Karman line, the unofficial boundary of space. While the spaceship reenters the lower reaches of the atmosphere, it will deploy a series of parachutes to slow its descent and float to a soft landing in the West Texas desert.

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