Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is inching closer to launching its first humans into space. The Amazon founder’s mysterious space tourism company announced another big rocket test for April 14, just a couple of weeks before Elon Musk’s SpaceX sends four more astronauts to the International Space Station. (No one said it was a competition, right?)
When is the Blue Origin test flight? Is there a livestream?
Blue Origin plans to run the fifteenth test of its New Shepard rocket booster and capsule, built for space tourism, on Wednesday, April 14. The launch is expected to begin at 11:15 a.m. Eastern from a West Texas site. A livestream will be available on BlueOrigin.com, on YouTube, or right here in the video below. The official name for the launch is NS-15.
Blue Origin workers will roleplay as astronauts by ascending the launch tower, strapping in, and completing a communications check. But before the launch, the workers will exit the capsule, leaving only a test dummy named Mannequin Skywalker to enjoy the ride. After landing, the
Blue Origin staff will re-enter the capsule and practice opening and exiting the hatch.
What is Blue Origin’s New Shepard?
The New Shepard system is designed to launch six people just past the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere, where they will spend a few minutes in microgravity, and then descend back to a landing pad. The entire flight is planned to last about 11 minutes, according to Blue Origin.
While other Blue Origin projects are focused on space exploration, like the New Glenn spacecraft and Blue Moon lunar lander, New Shepard is aimed at commercial spaceflight.
This will be the company’s second launch of the year, following a successful flight on January 14. However, this pace doesn’t keep with the 6-week launch schedule reported by CNBC earlier in the year. On that original timeline, this April 14 test would have happened in February, then allowing Blue Origin to fly crewed missions by this time of the year.
However, the schedule obtained by CNBC suggests this April 14 launch is the last test needed before crewed missions. So Bezos could still be sending his first astronauts into space (just barely, but it still counts) before too long.
Blue Origin’s previous launch, NS-14, updated the design of the crew capsule. It added noise suppression and cushioned walls, as well as air conditioning, larger windows, and a push-to-talk system for astronauts to communicate with mission control.
Blue Origin vs. SpaceX
The New Shepard spacecraft is designed to bring commercial passengers into space. By comparison, SpaceX’s current missions have focused on transporting cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station. The Elon Musk-owned company is also developing rockets that may eventually transport humans to Mars.
But if you’re into naming winners and losers thus far, one metric is pretty easy to track: SpaceX has successfully brought humans into space, something that Blue Origin has yet to do.
And while Elon Musk is somewhat successfully launching Starship heavy rocket prototypes meant for the moon and Mars, Blue Origin’s comparable New Glenn spacecraft has been delayed for years. April 14 could make a major turning point for Jeff Bezos, but he’s still got a ways to go before he’s caught up with Musk.