Into space with Blue Origin: test seating in New Shepard

In 2019, the private space travel company Blue Origin is still planning on being the first private organization to bring humans above the Karman line to an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles) and thus officially into space. The company founded by Jeff Bezos (Amazon) is setting its hopes on the “New Shepard,” a suborbital rocket with a passenger and cargo capsule that is launched and also landed by remote control – and is also reusable. It’s not yet clear how expensive the flights will be, but its competitor Virgin Galactic offers something similar for $250,000 (but not with “real” rockets and not above the Karman line).

I was able to try out the capsule at the Re:MARS Conference hosted by Amazon in Las Vegas – without actually launching into space, unfortunately. The capsule has room for six passengers. Each traveler has his or her own large window (considerably larger than an airplane window). Space in the capsule is naturally somewhat tight. The reclined seats are designed so that you sit with your knees bent. Nevertheless, I felt very comfortable. That is also not an unimportant detail, because ultimately, you’ll have to be able to endure up to 4.7g in that seat (almost five times the acceleration due to gravity).

A display on the window shows how the vehicle is doing at that moment. When the vehicle reaches its maximum altitude (apogee), passengers can unbuckle themselves and experience zero gravity for a few minutes. Then it’s time to go back down – first in free fall, then parachutes decelerate the capsule, and finally the capsule’s own engine takes over. Even the rocket lands upright under its own power; all components are reusable several times. Bezos imagines that the system will one day be able to be reused immediately, like landing in an airplane at an airport and then taking off again. That should be able to really drive the costs down.

The launch and landing will take place in West Texas. Blue Origin has built its own small spaceport there and there is plenty of room for landings in the desert. The cylinder in the middle of the capsule hides the rocket engine that separates the capsule from the rocket in the event of an emergency – which has already been shown to work several times in tests.

The cylinder in the middle hides the rocket engine that is used if the flight has to be aborted due to an emergency
Comfortably seated: Space traveler Brandon Q. Morris is obviously having a blast
Actual size: this is a true-to-scale replica of the actual capsule
Bent at the knee – this is how six passengers on reclined seats will fit in the capsule

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  • BrandonQMorris
  • Brandon Q. Morris is a physicist and space specialist. He has long been concerned with space issues, both professionally and privately and while he wanted to become an astronaut, he had to stay on Earth for a variety of reasons. He is particularly fascinated by the “what if” and through his books he aims to share compelling hard science fiction stories that could actually happen, and someday may happen. Morris is the author of several best-selling science fiction novels, including The Enceladus Series.

    Brandon is a proud member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and of the Mars Society.