Jan. 14 (UPI) — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, plans to test launch a new capsule from Texas on Thursday that includes new amenities for space tourists.
The uncrewed flight is scheduled for liftoff at 10:45 a.m. EST at the company’s Corn Ranch spaceport about 150 miles east of El Paso.
The NS-14 mission is the 14th flight of a suborbital New Shepard rocket. The capsule is outfitted with improved acoustics to dampen the roar, better interior temperature regulation, crew display panels, and speakers with a microphone and push-to-talk button at each seat, the company said.
“The mission will also test a number of astronaut communication and safety alert systems,” according to Blue Origin’s launch announcement. The goal is to sell tickets to tourists in the coming years, but Blue Origin hasn’t set a specific date for such flights.
“They are taking the acoustics very seriously, and that will be important for the passenger experience,” said John Spencer, a space architect and president of the non-profit Space Tourism Society based in Los Angeles.
“In a metal capsule, sounds during a launch would be magnified and very loud without acoustic dampening, so that is essential if people want to plan a quick space wedding or another event where you’d want music.”
Blue Origin’s rocket ride would be very different than Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic space experience, Spencer said. Virgin uses a spaceplane that takes off under an airplane
“Riding up a launch tower and walking out on that gantry to a capsule, with a countdown — that fulfills the mythos of spaceflight we know from the Apollo and space shuttle era,” Spencer said.
Some wealthy space tourists might want to try both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, he said.
Spencer said it’s unclear when Blue Origin will launch people. “I think the pandemic still has an impact, possibly a bigger impact than their technology or the system,” he said.
The New Shepard capsule, which has carried science experiments on previous flights, will have six seats. The company’s test dummy, Mannequin Skywalker, will occupy one of those seats and outfitted with sensors to measure shock or pressure from gravitational forces.
Blue Origin’s capsule will reach the Kármán line, about 62 miles high within minutes. The rocket will fly back to the pad, while the capsule will land with assistance from parachutes about 11 minutes after liftoff.
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