Science & Tech

Questions and answers as Jeff Bezos flies to the edge of space

JEFF Bezos, the world’s richest person, is set to blast off on board his company Blue Origin’s New Shepard launch vehicle for a suborbital flight as part of a history-making crew – another milestone in ushering in a new era of private space travel.

The US billionaire and Amazon founder is due to fly from a desert site in West Texas on a voyage nine days after British rival Richard Branson went on his competing space tourism company Virgin Galactic’s successful inaugural suborbital flight from New Mexico.

What time is lift-off?

Barring technical or weather-related delays, Bezos’s New Shepard is due to blast off at about 8am CDT (13:00 GMT) on Tuesday from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One facility about 32km outside the rural Texas town of Van Horn.

Will Bezos’s launch vehicle actually reach space?

Technically, New Shepard will only go as high as the edge of space, or the so-called Kármán line set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space. Still, at 100km altitude, Bezos is due to fly higher than Branson did at 86km.

Who will be flying the New Shepard?

The vehicle is a fully autonomous rocket-and-capsule combination that cannot be piloted from inside the spacecraft. It is completely computer-flown and will have none of Blue Origin’s staff astronauts or trained personnel onboard. Tuesday’s flight will be the world’s first unpiloted space flight with an all-civilian crew.

Who else will be joining on this flight?

Bezos, and his brother and private equity executive Mark Bezos, will be joined by two others. Pioneering aviator Wally Funk, 82, and recent high school graduate Oliver Daemen, 18, are set to become the oldest and youngest people to reach (the edge of) space.

Funk was one of the so-called Mercury 13 group of women who trained to become NASA astronauts in the early 1960s but was passed over because of her gender. Daemen, Blue Origin’s first paying customer, is set to attend the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands to study physics and innovation management in September. His father heads investment management firm Somerset Capital Partners.

How long will this journey last?

During the 11-minute flight, the crew will unbuckle for a few minutes of weightlessness and gaze back at the Earth’s curvature through what Blue Origin calls the largest windows ever used in space travel. Then, the capsule will fall back to Earth under parachutes, using a last-minute retro-thrust system that expels a “pillow of air” for a soft landing at 1.6 km/h in the Texas desert.

The reusable booster is due to return to the launch pad using drag brakes and ring and wedge fins for stabilisation.

Does this flight come with a liability insurance?

Bezos will launch into space without liability insurance, according to the New York Times.

While the New Shepard itself is most likely covered, brokers told the New York Times that neither Bezos nor Branson appeared to have bought coverage should they be hurt in their quest for space. However, Branson and Blue Origin declined or did not respond to questions about their insurance policies.

What did Bezos say about his trip and what will be next?

“I am excited, but not anxious. We’ll see how I feel when I’m strapped into my seat,” Bezos said in an interview with Fox Business Network on Monday. “… We’re ready. The vehicle’s ready. This team is amazing. I feel very good about it. And I think my fellow crewmates feel good about it, too.”

Blue Origin has not offered details on its longer-term pricing strategy or how quickly it will ramp up the frequency of its launches. Chief Executive Bob Smith has said the next flight is likely in September or October. Smith said the “willingness to pay continues to be quite high” for people interested in future flights.

The company appears to have a reservoir of future customers. More than 6,000 people from at least 143 countries entered an auction to become the first paying customer, though the auction winner who made a $28m bid ultimately dropped out of Tuesday’s flight.

How did Bezos get here?

Here is a look at Bezos’s life, from building an e-commerce startup in a garage in the suburbs of Seattle, to launching into space, a dream the entrepreneur has had since he was five years old.

1964: On January 12, Jeffrey Preston Jorgensen is born in Albuquerque, New Mexico to Jacklyn Gise and Ted Jorgensen and is later adopted by Miguel Bezos

1986: Graduates from Princeton University after studying electrical engineering and computer science

1990: Joins investment bank D E Shaw and Co, soon named the firm’s youngest senior vice president

1993: Marries MacKenzie Tuttle, whom he met at D E Shaw

1994: Bezos, who called himself a “garage inventor” from a young age, quits D E Shaw, moves to Seattle to open a virtual bookstore out of a garage

1995: Amazon.com sells its first book, begins to rapidly expand and diversify

2000: Bezos sets up his rocket startup Blue Origin

2006: Amazon introduces cloud computing service Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Amazon Unbox, the original video programming service to be later renamed Amazon Prime Video

2007: Amazon releases Kindle, a portable digital reading device

2012: Blue Origin begins flight testing New Shepard

2019: Jeff and MacKenzie file for divorce after 25 years of marriage; the couple has four children together

2021: Bezos steps down as CEO of Amazon on July 5, but remains executive chairman of e-commerce giant, with a net worth of over $206bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. – Al Jazeera

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