COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The seats in Blue Origin’s suborbital spaceship are like a dentist’s chair that’s fully extended, with a big difference. You can float out of this one when weightlessness sets in.
Of course, we couldn’t get the zero-G experience when we tried out the seats in a mock-up of the New Shepard crew capsule, on display here at the 33rd Space Symposium. But we did get a condensed version of the 11-minute flight scenario, from launch to landing.
Our guide for the sit-in was Ariane Cornell, a member of Blue Origin’s strategy and business development team. Five other journalists and I ducked our heads, stepped through the hatch and settled into the six seats placed around the periphery of a cabin that’s about the size and shape of a big igloo.
The interior was designed for Blue Origin with input from Seattle-based Teague, which also designed the cabin for Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner jet. The overall vibe is similar to what you see in a Dreamliner, right down to the cool-blue mood lighting in the cushioned walls.
Blue Origin’s flight plan calls for six passengers to board the capsule at T-minus-30, strap themselves in and brace themselves for launch. Padding can be added to the seats to accommodate different body shapes. If you’re extra-tall, just bend your legs a little more when you put your feet on the footrests.
“The best way here is to take a seat and then swing your legs over,” Cornell told us.
Each of us had a roughly 4-foot-tall window to look through, with a display screen about the size of an Amazon Kindle Fire tablet mounted on the window’s edge. During a real spaceflight, that tablet would display views from external cameras, plus flight data for the passengers’ edification.
A fisheye camera is mounted at the top of the space igloo’s ceiling. In flight, that will provide an internal view, not only for the passengers aboard the autonomously piloted capsule, but for Mission Control as well. If you don’t have your seat belt fastened properly, you’ll get a radioed reminder. Other cameras will be placed strategically around the cabin to take selfies automatically.
Right beneath the fisheye, there’s a dark cylinder that looks like a table for cocktails. But don’t set a drink down on this tabletop: It’s actually the housing for a solid-rocket motor that would fire up to power the capsule away from the booster below in the event of an emergency during ascent. The system was successfully tested last October during an uncrewed flight.
Passengers will feel about 3 G’s of acceleration on the way up, and at the top of the ride, they’ll get about four minutes of zero-G. There’s enough room to float free and do a Superman pose. But when you turn a somersault, be careful not to hit your fellow passengers.
“Zero-G etiquette will be part of the training,” Cornell said.
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A countdown displayed in big numbers on your tablet will alert you to get back in your seat for the roller-coaster descent, which can deliver up to 5.5 G’s of acceleration. Parachutes will slow down the 8,000-pound capsule, and just before landing, a burst from the retro-thruster system will take some of the “bump” out of the touchdown.
Commercial service could begin as early as 2018. The ticket price hasn’t yet been set, and it’s too soon to make reservations. But not too soon for Blue Origin to start thinking about repeat customers.
“I’m sure, as soon as people go up and they come back down, they’re going to want to do it again,” Cornell said. “And we’ll be ready for them.”