On October 5, 2016, at the West Texas Launch Site test rocket engineers performed an in-flight test on a liquid-fuel, single-engine rocket (New Shepherd) designed to carry passengers to the edge of space.
This launch was the sixth successful one in a year and a half for Blue Origin, the aerospace company funded by Amazon.com Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, thus they highlighted their efforts to make the craft disaster-proof.
A month earlier, an orbital rocket from Elon Musk’s SpaceX blew up on the launchpad, taking a $200 million Facebook satellite with it. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, the front-runner in suborbital spaceflight tests, has had to rebuild after its SpaceShipTwo rocket-plane fatally crashed two years ago.
Given its recent spaceflights, “Blue appears to be in the lead right now,” says Doug Messier, managing editor at space industry blog Parabolic Arc.
Blue Origin said in October that it will fly test astronauts next year and paying passengers the year after. Barring further production delays, Branson’s company should still be able to start commercial flights around the same time Blue Origin does, says Phil Smith, senior space analyst at the Tauri Group, a consulting firm. Virgin says it has booked about 700 reservations for five-minute tastes of weightlessness at the edge of space.
Tickets cost $250,000 each, and the company has received at least $89 million in deposits for reservations, according to the Financial Times.
Between research scientists and wannabe astronauts, there should be plenty of customers for more than one suborbital spaceflight company, says Jeff Foust, a senior writer for SpaceNews magazine. Parabolic’s Messier says many who’ve waited years for a glimpse of the final frontier will probably be happy to book a trip on either craft. “It’s likely,” he says, “that some people will want to do both.”