Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin secures FAA license for manned missions
Although Richard Branson beat Blue Origin to space with the Unity 22 mission, just days before Jeff Bezos's maiden voyage to space, his company Blue Origin has been authorized by the US's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to carry humans on the New Shepard launch system into space. It has been authorized to conduct human spaceflight missions from its Launch Site One facility in Texas.
Reuters reported that Blue Origin was required to verify that its launch vehicle's hardware and software worked safely during a test flight. The FAA granted the license after it confirmed that Blue Origin met the regulatory requirements. The approval came just days before Bezos is to embark on his first trip to space, accompanied by his brother and aerospace pioneer Wally Funk.
Bezos's trip to space aboard a Blue Origin spacecraft also marks the first time that the space exploration firm will be performing a crewed test flight of the New Shepard launch system. The FAA confirmed to Reuters that Blue Origin's license for manned missions is valid through August. The license clears the regulatory pathway for the company's ambition of commercializing civilian space travel.
In a similar fashion, just two weeks ago, Virgin Galactic had secured FAA's approval for human spaceflight ahead of Sir Richard Branson's first spaceflight aboard the VSS Unity spacecraft on July 11. Before Branson's flight, Blue Origin took to Twitter to compare the New Shepard rocket to Virgin Galactic's spacecraft, boasting that the former will fly above the Kármán line while the latter won't.
Blue Origin claims that the Kármán line, as defined by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, is accepted by "96% of the world's population" as the boundary between Earth's upper atmosphere and outer space. While the Kármán line is at an altitude of 100km (62 miles) above sea level, NASA says that space begins at an altitude of 50 miles (around 80.5km).
Only 4% of the world recognizes a lower limit of 80 km or 50 miles as the beginning of space. New Shepard flies above both boundaries. One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin. pic.twitter.com/4EAzMfCmYT— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 9, 2021
Blue Origin plans to offer flights to an altitude that reaches the Kármán line while Virgin Galactic's flight also reaches space at an altitude of about 80.5km, but only if you go by NASA's definition of the altitude at which space begins. Corporate one-upmanship notwithstanding, Swiss investment bank UBS estimates that the global space tourism market will be worth $3 billion in a decade.