The dawn of a new era of space travel may be upon us after Amazon’s Jeff Bezos successfully tested a vehicle that will take tourists into space.
Mr Bezos’ firm, called the Blue Origin company, has long spoken of its desire to take paying astronauts into the cosmos.
And now it has performed the first successful test of the vehicle they hope will make that dream a reality.
Called New Shepard, the vehicle consists of a main booster rocket and a six-seater capsule on top, standing 60ft (18 metres) tall.
For this, the first test flight of the entire architecture, it was unmanned – but the company hopes to soon start taking customers into space.
The cost of a ticket has not yet been announced, but estimates suggest it will be around $200,000 – similar to a flight on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.
The difference, however, is that while Galactic relies on using a plane to slowly rise into the atmosphere, New Shepard takes off straight up and lands back on the ground.
This is known as vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL).
And Blue Origin is also much more secretive – with this successful test flight taking many by surprise.
In video released by Blue Origin, the booster – using liquid hydrogen and oxygen – lifts the New Shepard vehicle to an altitude of 58 miles (94km).
This is four miles (six kilometres) short of the official boundary of space – the Karman Line – although there does not seem to be any problems with reaching this boundary in future.
Once it reached its peak altitude, accelerating at 3Gs, the booster separated from the capsule.
‘The in-space separation of the crew capsule from the propulsion module was perfect,’ Mr Bezso said in a blog post.
‘Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return.’
On this occasion, however, the booster lost pressure in its hydraulic system and was not recovered.
Mr Bezos said the firm was already working on an improved system to make sure the error doesn’t happen again.
‘Assembly of propulsion module serial numbers 2 and 3 is already underway – we’ll be ready to fly again soon,’ he said.
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