Technology & Science

Amazon founder unveils spacecraft test

The founder of online retailer Amazon.com has issued an open call for aerospace engineers to work for a private space exploration venture previously shrouded in secrecy.

The founder of online retailer Amazon.com has issued an open call for aerospace engineers to work for a private space exploration venture previously shrouded in secrecy.

Jeff Bezos posted an open letter on his Blue Origin website calling for "hard working, technically gifted, team-oriented [and] experienced" aerospace engineers.

The Blue Origin space exploration venture, started in 2000, previously had scant information on its site.

But on Tuesday, Bezos unveiled more details of the project, including a video of a November 2006 launch of a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle designed to take three astronauts on sub-orbital trips into space.

Bezos said his company's approach is to take small steps in achieving the ultimate goal of space exploration.

"We're working, patiently and step-by-step to lower the cost of space flight so that many people can afford to go and so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system," he wrote on the website.

"Accomplishing this mission will take a long time, and we're working on it methodically."

The launch of an early version of the cone-shaped New Shepard takeoff and landing vehicle at a site in Texas was one of these early steps.

Video footage on Nov. 13 showed the vehicle launch from thrusters on its base and ascended nearly 90 metres before making a controlled landing 25 seconds after take-off.

Blue Origin posted 15 job openings on the website, including openings for propulsion, structural, safety and guidance engineers.

Bezos's project is one of a number of high-profile space exploration ventures started with private funds.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen funded the experimental space plane SpaceShipOne, which won the Ansari X Prize, a competition in 2004 to send a privately funded spacecraft into space twice in two weeks.

Virgin Atlantic head Richard Branson has also created a division of his company called Virgin Galactic, with plans to take passengers into space by 2008.

And U.S.-based Space Adventures has already begun the fledgling space tourism industry, sending four people thus far aboard flights to the International Space Station.

Former Microsoft software developer Charles Simonyi seems set to be the next space tourist, travelling aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the station in April 2007.

While privately built spacecraft have had success operating sub-orbital flights, they have yet to enter orbit like the U.S. space agency's space shuttles. The energy required to lift a spacecraft into orbit is much higher.

Blue Origin said its test flights will grow in duration and altitude over the next three years.

The goal of the project is to have as many as 52 commercial flights possibly beginning in 2010.

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