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Billionaires in space: Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin touts rocket safety

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is pictured in front of his company Blue Origin's New Shepard capsule. Photo courtesy of Blue Origin
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is pictured in front of his company Blue Origin's New Shepard capsule. Photo courtesy of Blue Origin

July 16 (UPI) -- As Jeff Bezos prepares to become the second billionaire to blast into space on his own company's rocket next week, his Blue Origin is touting the safety of its rocket system.

The New Shepard suborbital rocket is scheduled for liftoff at 9 a.m. EDT Tuesday from the company's Corn Ranch launch site 160 miles east of El Paso, Texas -- pending any weather or technical delays.

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Blue Origin officials said New Shepard's safety is elevated by an abort method. At any point in the launch process, the capsule is capable of popping off the rocket and flying to a safe landing under its parachutes.

"Blue Origin has been flight-testing the New Shepard rocket and its redundant safety systems since 2012," Gary Lai, senior director of design for New Shepard, said in a video released by the company.

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"The program has had 15 successful consecutive test missions, including three successful escape tests, showing the crew escape system can activate safely in any phase of flight," Lai said.



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Blue Origin's method not only is safer, but also feels more like a true astronaut experience because it is a rocket with vertical liftoff, compared to Virgin Galactic, whose plane that launched last Sunday takes off on a runway, said John Spencer, a space architect and president of the non-profit Space Tourism Society.

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"The Bezos approach is more into the ethos of spaceflight, you might say," Spencer said in an interview. "There's even a gantry tower and a walkway. There's a countdown, a liftoff."

The capsule has "the largest windows to have flown in space," according to a Blue Origins fact sheet.

Bezos' vision to build an infrastructure that will permanently enable space exploration is his ultimate goal, Spencer said.

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Bezos has said he chose July 20 for the launch because it is the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969.

"Like Elon Musk, Bezos' long-term plan from Day 1 one was to inspire people and eventually build orbital rockets and facilities on the moon," Spencer said.

The Blue Origin trip, however, will be over quick, he noted. After reaching space, passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and then return to Earth under parachutes. Most New Shepard flights last about 11 minutes.

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British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic flights last about 90 minutes. The length of time spent in weightlessness is about the same for both.

Riding with Bezos will be his brother, Mark Bezos, 82-year-old aviator Wally Funk and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen of the Netherlands. They will become the oldest and youngest people to fly in space, respectively, doing so on Blue Origin's first crewed flight.

"I want to go on this flight because it's a thing I wanted to do all my life. It's an adventure. It's a big deal for me. I invited my brother to come ... because we're closest friends," Bezos said in a June video posted on Instagram.

Bezos, who amassed a fortune from e-commerce giant Amazon, which he founded, bought the remote, 165,000 acre Corn Ranch in 2004 to make it a spaceport. Blue Origin has built several launchpads and engine testing stands there.

The historic launch is planned just nine days after Branson flew into space aboard his company's VSS Unity spaceplane, marking the first time the founder of a commercial space company did so.

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Blue Origin also made a point on social media that its 59-foot-tall rocket will go at least a dozen miles higher than Branson's vehicle -- to the 62-mile Kármán line that much of the world defines as true outer space.

Space industry analysts will be watching closely to see which the public prefers, said Dallas Kasaboski, senior analyst with Northern Sky Research.

"Going to space will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most passengers, so they're going to study the difference between a rocket and a spaceplane," Kasaboski said. "Blue Origin has some advantages, but some may want a more leisurely, longer trip."

The big unknown about Blue Origin is the cost of a ticket under normal operations, Kasaboski said. Regardless, both new space tourism companies have proved there is plenty of demand, he said.

Blue Origin held an auction to sell a seat on the trip, and the winning bid was $28 million. But the bidder, whose name was not released, could not fly because of what was described as a schedule conflict.

Daemen's father, the CEO of a private equity firm, put the teen on the trip when his bid, the second highest, was then selected for Tuesday's launch. The teenager has a pilot's license and plans to major in physics in college.

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Bezos says he expects the space experience will be profound.

"To see the Earth from space, it changes you. It changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity. It's one Earth," he said.

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Support teams work around the SpaceX Crew Dragon Resilience spacecraft shortly after it landed with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Victor Glover and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi aboard in the Gulf of Mexico off Panama City, Fla., on Sunday. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

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