Technology & Science

Jeff Bezos's rocket company Blue Origin test-flies suborbital spaceship

Blue Origin, a startup space company owned by Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos, launched an experimental suborbital spaceship from Texas Thursday.

Startup space company is owned by Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos

Space company founded by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos tests what is designed to be a reusable spacecraft to take commercial passengers 1:16

Blue Origin, a startup space company owned by Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos, launched an experimental suborbital spaceship from Texas, the first in a series of test flights to develop commercial unmanned and passenger spaceflight services, the company said on Thursday.

The New Shepard vehicle blasted off on Wednesday from Blue Origin's test facility near Van Horn, Texas, and rose to an altitude of 93 kilometres (58 miles) before the capsule separated and parachuted back to Earth.

"Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return," Bezos said in a statement.

Rocket descent unsuccessful

The descent of the liquid hydrogen- and liquid oxygen-fuelled rocket, however, was not successful.

"We lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent," Bezos noted. "Fortunately, we've already been in work for some time on an improved hydraulic system ... We'll be ready to fly again soon."

The New Shepard crew capsule descends by parachute in the west Texas desert after separating from its propulsion module during the unmanned spaceship's maiden test flight Thursday. (Blue Origin/Associated Press)

Blue Origin is among a handful of companies developing privately owned spaceships to fly experiments, satellites and passengers into space. Like Virgin Galactic, a U.S. offshoot of Richard Branson's London-based Virgin Group, and privately owned XCOR Aerospace, Blue Origin is eyeing suborbital spaceflights, which reach altitudes of about 100 kilometres (62 miles), as a stepping stone to orbital flight.

Virgin Galactic plans to resume test flights of its six-passenger, two-pilot SpaceShipTwo vehicle later this year, following a fatal accident in October. Mojave, Calif.-based XCOR plans to begin test flights of its two-person Lynx space plane in late 2015 as well.

Boeing and privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, both of which have financial support from NASA, are skipping suborbital flight and building space taxis to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station, which flies about 418 kilometres (250 miles) above Earth.

Blue Origin also is working on a more powerful, methane-burning rocket engine that has attracted the backing of United Launch Alliance, the Lockheed-Martin/Boeing partnership that currently flies nearly all of the U.S. military's satellites.

Blue Origin, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance are all developing reusable launch systems in an effort to cut costs.

Blue Origin expects to fly New Shepard dozens of times unmanned before test pilots are aboard, company President Rob Meyerson told reporters during an April 7 conference call. The capsule is designed to fly three people and/or a mix of passengers and payloads to suborbital space. Blue Origin has not yet released pricing information.

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