Image Courtesy: Benzinga

Blue Origin’s licence to launch its billionaire founder Jeff Bezos and three other passengers to the edge of space next Tuesday has been authorised by the Federal Aviation Administration, removing the final regulatory obstacle for this month’s second billionaire space entrepreneur going into space.

Blue Origin is preparing to launch its first human crew atop its suborbital New Shepard rocket on July 20th from a remote desert site near Van Horn, Texas. The FAA’s authorization to fly humans was issued Monday night and is good through August. It came after a thorough evaluation of New Shepard’s hardware and software.

“New Shepard is ready for launch,” Blue Origin said on Monday, right before the licence approval was completed. Liftoff is scheduled for 9 a.m. ET next Tuesday, with a live company broadcast beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET on YouTube. It will be the 16th launch for New Shepard, with the most recent test in April serving as an uncrewed astronaut practise. 

Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin’s rival in space tourism, blasted billionaire founder Richard Branson and three other business employees into orbit on Sunday. Branson was originally scheduled to fly on a later mission, but his flight was moved up in a not-so-subtle attempt to beat Bezos to space by nine days. (Branson refers to it as a coincidence.) That choice sparked weeks of sarcasm and sass from Blue Origin, which posted an infographic comparing New Shepard to Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo space plane days before the mission.

The FAA granted Virgin Galactic a permission to fly Branson 16 days before its July 11th trip, while Blue Origin received its a week before Bezos’ flight. SpaceShipTwo took off from a New Mexico runway linked to a carrier plane before falling at 45,000 feet and firing its rocket engine to fly deeper into space, some 53.5 miles above land (the altitude that NASA and the FAA consider space). After floating in microgravity for many minutes, Branson and his crew landed safely on the same runway in New Mexico.

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket is a roughly six-story-tall suborbital launcher that launches a gumdrop-shaped crew capsule approximately 62 miles aloft, a height considered space by many governments. The rocket booster returns for a vertical landing, while the crew capsule floats back to land behind parachutes after a few minutes in microgravity. Bezos, his brother Mark, aviation legend and astronaut candidate Wally Funk, and an unnamed fourth passenger who spent $28 million in an auction for their seat will board New Shepard on July 20th, the date humans first set foot on the Moon in 1969.

The FAA licence regulates the safety of persons and structures on the ground near Blue Origin’s launch site, not the safety of passengers on board. Current US law prohibits the FAA from regulating spaceflight passenger safety, a restriction enacted years ago to allow the fledgling commercial space sector to develop. As a result, Blue Origin, like every other space firm that launches humans into space, requires passengers to sign “informed consent” papers to guarantee they are aware of the safety hazards of launching a rocket into orbit.


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