Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos says his Blue Origin space venture is targeting the next test flight of its New Shepard suborbital spaceship for Sunday.
Word of the launch came today in a tweet. And yes, there will be streaming video:
Launch preparations are underway for New Shepard’s 8th test flight, as we continue our progress toward human spaceflight. Currently targeting Sunday 4/29 with launch window opening up at 830am CDT. Livestream info to come. @BlueOrigin #GradatimFerociter pic.twitter.com/zAYpAGWB8C
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) April 27, 2018
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) April 29, 2018
Like the seven previous test flights, this one is to take place at Blue Origin’s spaceport in West Texas. “Shine up your boots, Team Blue,” the company said in a follow-up tweet.
If this launch follows the playbook for past outings, a reusable booster will send an uncrewed capsule up, up and away. After separation, the booster will descend and fire its rocket to touch down on its landing legs, while the capsule will float down on the end of a parachute.
The most recent test came last December, when Blue Origin tested a capsule that had actual windows in it for the first time. Bezos reported afterward that a test dummy nicknamed “Mannequin Skywalker” had a great ride. Mannequin Skywalker is due to make an appearance in Sunday’s sequel as well:
Mannequin Skywalker is ready for his 2nd mission on board New Shepard. He’s a little sensitive about being called a “dummy”, as he will be conducting astronaut telemetry and science studies – a very important job! pic.twitter.com/h2ncpGWaTi
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) April 28, 2018
Scientific payloads have flown on past launches, and will fly on this one as well. But so far, no people have climbed aboard. Last week, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith told GeekWire that he and his team are aiming to start flying test astronauts by the end of the year.
Paying passengers would eventually follow, riding the rocket to the edge of space — higher than 100 kilometers, or 62 miles — and experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness in the process. Blue Origin hasn’t yet set a timetable, or a price tag, for those commercial flights.
Blue Origin is also moving ahead with a separate orbital launch program that will make use of a more powerful but yet-to-be-built rocket known as New Glenn.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued an advisory about potential Blue Origin launch activities this week, but it’s not clear whether or not the company took advantage of that opportunity to conduct preparatory tests.
It’s already been quite a week for Bezos, thanks to amazingly positive first-quarter financial results for Amazon, the other company he founded. But Blue Origin has the potential to be even bigger than Amazon. Bezos often says he’d like to see millions of people living and working in space — a scenario that’s aimed at shifting heavy industry off the planet and preserving Earth for “residential and light industrial” zoning.
Last year, Bezos said that he sells a billion dollars’ worth of Amazon stock annually to back Blue Origin. And this week, during a visit to Berlin to pick up a business innovation award from Axel Springer, Bezos said Blue Origin is “the most important thing I’m doing.”
Update for 9:25 a.m. PT April 29: We’ve added Blue Origin’s follow-up tweets about Sunday’s test launch.