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Blue Origin To Launch New Shepard Spaceship In Year’s First Test

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Blue Origin to conduct New Shepard's eight test flight. Pictured, New Shepard ascending through clear skies to an apogee of 339,138 feet. Photo: Blue Origin

By Shubham Sharma, International Business Times - Business

As SpaceX continues to thrive in the commercial spaceflight segment, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is inching towards its goal of flying tourists into space. In a recent tweet, the billionaire announced the company is gearing up to conduct the eight test of its tourist spaceship on April 29, Sunday.

The mission, which would be the first of the year for Blue Origin, will see New Shepard — a combo of a reusable rocket and a tourist capsule — lifting off from the company’s Texas test site. The window for the launch opens at around 8:30 a.m. CDT (9.30 a.m. EDT) and the whole event would be live streamed for the audience, according to Bezos’ tweet.

Though other details of the launch, including information of the live stream, have not been revealed, the trend of Blue Origin launches suggests the uncrewed vehicle will complete a journey to low-Earth orbit and back, just like Elon Musk’s Falcon 9 rockets. Its capsule, on the other hand, will fly gradually towards Earth using parachutes for a soft-landing.

Vertical launch and landing capabilities are touted as SpaceX's signature move, but only a few know that Blue Origin was the first one to nail the controlled descent. The company launched and landed back a rocket in November 2015, while SpaceX entered the arena a month later.

However, things have changed a lot since then. SpaceX has fast-forwarded towards commercial and government missions and has a number of successful launches under its belt, while Blue Origin is still in the testing phase. The company conducted as many as six test-flights before October 2016 and then returned with the seventh last year in December.

In the last test, an upgraded version of the company’s capsule, with bigger windows and other features, was launched with New Shepard. And more interestingly, it even accommodated a dummy named "Mannequin Skywalker" to help the company assess the forces that come into play during a suborbital spaceflight.

At present, it is not clear if the upcoming flight will include any new configurations or the dummy, but the intentions are pretty much evident — round trips to the edge of space. Blue Origin’s CEO Bob Smith recently said the company hopes to fly people into low-Earth orbit by the end of the year, giving them an experience of weightlessness for a few short minutes.

“What we want to do is get a series of flights, test out the incorporation of some of the changes that we’ve made, and then make sure we’ve got a stable configuration that we can repeat several times before we get to first human flight,” Smith told SpaceNews last month.

That said, it is also not known what would be the cost of a single suborbital space trip on Blue Origin’s New Shepard. “We continue to be head down on making sure the configuration is good and stable and ready to fly,” the chief executive added. “Once we all feel confident that that’s the case, then we’ll have the conversation internally about what prices are and what that whole process looks like.”

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Technology - U.S. Daily News: Blue Origin To Launch New Shepard Spaceship In Year’s First Test
Blue Origin To Launch New Shepard Spaceship In Year’s First Test
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Technology - U.S. Daily News
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