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Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is the founder of Blue Origin. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos says it’s all systems go for a live-streamed Father’s Day launch of Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard suborbital spaceship, after a postponement due to a leaky O-ring seal.

Blue Origin, the space venture that Bezos founded in 2000, is due to send New Shepard into space from its West Texas launch facility at 7:15 a.m. PT (10:15 a.m. ET) Sunday, Bezos said in a series of tweets. Each of the tweets included a reference to Blue Origin’s motto, “Gradatim Ferociter” (“Step by step, ferociously”).

The test flight had originally been scheduled for today, but on Thursday, Bezos said the faulty O-ring forced a delay.

For space geeks, any reference to an O-ring evokes memories of the Challenger shuttle disaster, which investigators traced to an O-ring leak in one of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. Seven astronauts, including teacher-in-space Christa McAuliffe, died on that cold January day in 1986.

The consequences of a bad O-ring would have been less dire for New Shepard, because the spacecraft isn’t carrying passengers during its flight tests. Nevertheless, a leak in the empty crew capsule’s pressurization system would have led to a bad day.

This flight will be the fourth outing for this particular New Shepard craft. It follows up on a test mission in April that marked three milestones: the first time Blue Origin announced a launch in advance, the first time Blue Origin flew research payloads, and the first time Bezos live-tweeted a launch and landing. This week marked Bezos’ first public announcement of a launch delay.

Live-streaming a launch has become standard procedure for NASA and space companies such as SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, but it’s a new twist for Blue Origin. In the past, the company has released video only after its tests.

Like the previous test flight, this one calls for Blue Origin’s single-stage booster to send the experiment-laden capsule to an altitude beyond 62 miles (100 kilometers), the internationally accepted boundary of outer space. After separation, the booster is to make an autonomous vertical landing, while the capsule will deploy three parachutes to slow its descent back to Earth.

This time, one of those parachutes is designed to fail. That will give Blue Origin a chance to see how well the capsule lands with just two parachutes, plus its retro-rocket system. Bezos says the test-flight team will also raise the degree of difficulty for the booster’s landing.

The fact that the launch was rescheduled for Father’s Day wasn’t lost on Bezos, who has four children in their teens and pre-teens:

If the test program proceeds as Bezos hopes, test astronauts will get on board in late 2017, and paying passengers will start flying to the edge of space in 2018. The ticket price hasn’t yet been set.

Blue Origin builds its New Shepard suborbital spacecraft at its headquarters in Kent, south of Seattle, and ships them down to Texas for testing. The company is also building facilities in Florida for an orbital launch system that’s due to go into operation by 2020.

This is an updated version of a report that was originally published on June 16.

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