Bezos' Blue Origin launches first crew to edge of space since 2022 grounding

amazon, bezos' blue origin launches first crew to edge of space since 2022 grounding

FILE PHOTO: A helicopter flies over a building featuring Blue Origin's logo near Van Horn, Texas, U.S., October 13, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By Joey Roulette

(Reuters) -Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin launched its first crew of people from a site in Texas to the edge of space on Sunday since its suborbital New Shepard rocket was grounded in 2022, resuming its centerpiece space tourism business.

Six people seated in a capsule atop Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket were launched from the company's remote Van Horn, Texas launch facilities.

The reusable rocket is expected to separate from the capsule and return to land, while the crew capsule will ascend further beyond the boundary of Earth's atmosphere.

The New Shepard crew includes Ed Dwight, the first Black astronaut candidate who was picked by former U.S. President John Kennedy in 1961 to train as an astronaut, but never flew to space. He is 90.

All passengers, including a venture capitalist and a pilot, are paying customers of Blue Origin's space tourism business, though Dwight's seat was sponsored by a space-focused nonprofit and a private foundation. Blue Origin has not disclosed how much it charges customers.

The crew members are expected to unfasten their safety belts and float around the gumdrop-shaped pod for a few minutes in the weightlessness of space before the capsule descends back to land under parachutes, capping a mission that would increase Blue Origin's private astronaut headcount to 37.

The grounding of New Shepard, Blue Origin's only active rocket, came after a mid-flight failure in September 2022 during an uncrewed research mission. A structural failure in the rocket's engine nozzle, the company concluded, forced the capsule full of science experiments to abort.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which oversees launchsite safety and commercial rocket mishaps, examined Blue Origin's probe into the failure and required the company to take 21 corrective actions, including an engine redesign and "organizational changes."

New Shepard returned to flight in December 2023 with an uncrewed mission, carrying 33 science and research payloads to the edge of space.

Resuming New Shepard's routine missions was a top priority for Blue Origin's new CEO Dave Limp, plucked from Amazon.com's devices unit late last year by Bezos, the billionaire founder of both companies. Bezos is working to boost his space company's competitive footing with Elon Musk's SpaceX.

While New Shepard is back to flying people, other pressing priorities remain at the company. Chief among them is debuting Blue Origin's much larger rocket, New Glenn, a reusable heavy-lift rocket designed to compete with SpaceX's Falcon 9 in the business of launching commercial and government satellites into Earth's orbit and beyond.

Development of New Glenn and its BE-4 engines has been delayed for years, though Blue Origin expects a debut launch from Florida by the end of this year.

Limp, who started as CEO in December, has sought to speed up the company's production line for BE-4, which is also used by the Boeing-Lockheed joint venture United Launch Alliance's new Vulcan rocket.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham and Franklin Paul)

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