Blue Origin Launches First Space Flight with Tourists on Board Next July

Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos, will launch a rocket into space with passengers on board for the first time in July, the company said on Wednesday. One seat on the flight, which will carry six astronauts on a short jaunt to the edge of outer space, is up for auction. The first astronaut flight of New Shepard, a suborbital spacecraft, is scheduled for July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

We’ve spent years testing, so we’re ready,” Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales for Blue Origin, said at a news conference on Wednesday. Mr. Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, also started Blue Origin in 2000. Like other billionaires who have invested in spaceflight, he has stated broad goals for humanity’s expansion around the solar system, imagining millions of people eventually living and working in space.

For now, most of Blue Origin’s business has stayed closer to Earth. It builds and sells rocket engines to another rocket company, United Launch Alliance. A rocket that would lift cargo to orbit is not expected to be ready for years, and the company recently lost a competition with SpaceX for a contract to build a moon lander for NASA’s astronauts (it has protested the award). Customers have also paid to fly science experiments for NASA and private scientists during test flights of the New Shepard spacecraft.

It has been preparing for years for the start of its space tourism program, which would offer suborbital trips to what is considered the boundary of outer space, 62 miles above Earth. A competitor,Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, also plans to fly space tourists on suborbital jaunts. Virgin Galactic’s space plane, known as SpaceShipTwo, is flown by two pilots, so it has carried people to space on test flights, but no paying passengers yet. Blue Origin’s tourist rocket is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space. It has undergone 15 test flights, none of which had passengers aboard. Ahead of the latest test, in April, a crew rehearsed boarding and exiting the capsule.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/

China Now Launches More Rockets Than Anyone In The World

In recent weeks, China‘s space program has made news by revealing some of its long-term ambitions for spaceflight. These include establishing an Earth-Moon space economic zone by 2050, which, if successful, could allow the country to begin to dictate the rules of behavior for future space exploration. Some have questioned whether China, which has flown six human spaceflights in the last 16 years, can really build a large low-Earth space station, send taikonauts to the Moon, return samples from Mars, and more in the coming decade or two. But what seems clear is that the country’s authoritarian government has long-term plans and is taking steps toward becoming a global leader in space exploration.

By one important metric—orbital launchesChina has already reached this goal. In 2018, the country set a goal of 35 orbital launches and ended up with 39 launch attempts. That year, the United States (29 flights) and Russia (20) trailed China, according to Space Launch Report. It marked the first time China led the world in the number of successful orbital launchesThis year, China is set to pace the world again. Through Sunday, the country has launched 27 orbital missions, followed by Russia (19), and the United States (16). Although nearly a month and a half remain in this year, a maximum of six additional orbital launches are likely from the United States in 2019.

To be fair, China’s space launch program has not been without hiccups. The country’s space program is still trying to bring its large Long March 5 vehicle back into service after a catastrophic failure during just its second mission, in July 2017. And the country had three failures in 2018 and 2019, compared to just one in the United States and Russia combined.

The United States has taken a step back this year in part due to decreased activity by SpaceX. The company launched a record 21 missions last year but has so far launched 11 rockets in 2019. A flurry of missions remains possible in the next six weeks for the company, including a space station resupply mission in early December, a commercial satellite launch, and additional Starlink flights.

Another big factor has been a slow year for United Launch Alliance. The Colorado-based company has launched just two Delta IV-Medium rockets this year, one Delta IV-Heavy, and a single Atlas V mission. The company may launch Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft before the end of 2019, giving the Atlas V rocket a second launch. It is possible that Rocket Lab, which has flown its Electron rocket from New Zealand five times in 2019 and is planning at least one more mission before the end of the year, will have more launches than United Launch Alliance for the first time. Sometime next year, Rocket Lab should also begin to add to the US tally for orbital launches as it opens a new facility at Wallops Island, Virginia.

Source: https://arstechnica.com/