When is the Blue Origin flight?
Blue Origin's first human launch with Jeff Bezos: When to watch and what to know. The launch is set for 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT) on July 20, 2021. Space.comBlue Origin's first human launch with Jeff Bezos: When to watch and what to know
Is Bezos going to space?
Last month, Jeff Bezos announced that he will launch himself into space on July 20, which will be fifteen days after he resigned as CEO of Amazon. Bezos will be a passenger on the first crewed flight of the New Shepard, a rocket ship made by his space company, Blue Origin. TownandCountrymag.comJeff Bezos Is Going to Space
31 December, 1969 - 06:00pm
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Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson and his team successfully flew to the “edge of space” on the Unity 22 mission aboard a Virgin Galactic plane on July 12. The event was hailed as the start of space tourism, narrowly beating the planned launch on 20 July by fellow billionaire business magnate Jeff Bezos and his firm Blue Origin.
But does the 85km (53 miles), the altitude of the recent Virgin Galactic flight, actually count as space? And what are these companies likely to achieve going forward?
The definition of where space begins is very subjective. The Kármán line is a distance of 100km (62 miles), determined in 1957. This line has been adopted by the Swiss Air Sports Federation (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale) to determine if an activity is aeronautical or astronautical.
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Alternatively, the US Air Force and Nasa determine their boundary as 80km (50 miles), which is where military personnel get their “astronaut wings”. This altitude has been reached by a number of specialist planes including the X-15 and notably the privately funded SpaceShipOne, reaching 112km (70 miles) – well above VSS Unity’s current achievement. The Blue Origin launch is aiming for 106km (66 miles).
While this altitude allows some excellent views of the Earth, it is not an orbit. To be orbiting at this altitude you need to be traveling at a minimum speed of 7.85km/s (17,500mph) in a horizontal direction. Unity was just an acceleration straight up and then a controlled drop back down. This is relatively simple to do, but it’s significantly more difficult, both in terms of energy and engineering, to turn this into an orbit.
The definition of the edge of space is not trivial. Space is not where you feel weightless, as this can be achieved for short periods of time in specialist drop chambers or on parabolic flights. And despite the tweet from Virgin Galactic stating the crew were in zero-gravity, the gravitational pull was roughly 9.5 meters per square second – about 97% of that on the surface. The weightlessness experienced is purely due to an extended free fall.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 11, 2021
The first billionaire in space has excited some, feeling that they too may one day see the Earth from 85km if they can afford US$250,000 for a one-hour trip. However, public opinion has not been unanimous, with many highlighting that the cost of the venture could be used to eradicate poverty or assist with the current pandemic response.
There’s also the environmental impact. According to Virgin Galactic, a single flight on Unity results in carbon emission of 1.2 tonnes – equivalent to a passenger in business class on a return trip from London to New York. Compared to aviation, this is small, but the more regular these flights become the more carbon will be added. Blue Origin’s engines, on the other hand, are powered by liquid hydrogen. While the emissions are therefore minimal, the generation of liquid hydrogen and carbon cost of transporting materials is still an issue.
Although Virgin Galactic has beaten Blue Origin to the punch – SpaceX is ahead of both in terms of private space exploration. It is focusing on launches to the International Space Station and much more adventurous space tourism, such as a trip to the Moon and back, which definitely classes as going into space. The success rate of SpaceX, including the Crew Dragon 2 craft, means that its dearMoon project has a good chance of succeeding, although not for a few years yet. The plan is to develop a new rocket, known as Starship, to launch this first space tourism venture.
Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic is developing a concept supersonic passenger transporter as a successor to the Concorde that would be able to fly up to 19 people from Los Angeles to Sydney in under seven hours. It also won a small contract with Nasa to do research on its flights.
Blue Origin has also collaborated with Nasa to develop concepts and technologies to support future human spaceflight operations. The current development is a concept robotic lunar lander dubbed Blue Moon, which is looking to deliver cargo – and maybe even crew – to the Moon. These projects will certainly provide more experience for the companies, although are a long way off being completed or tested.
Virgin Galactic’s sister company Virgin Orbit, a low-cost, small satellite launch plan, is far more impressive. It has already completed two successful missions, deploying payloads to low Earth orbit. This works in a similar way to Virgin Galactic by having the LauncherOne rockets attached to a carrier plane (Cosmic Girl) and firing at an altitude of 10km. This is a good alternative for launching small, lightweight satellites to about 500km so that they don’t have to wait for an opening on larger rockets.
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19 July, 2021 - 04:40am
Summer of Soul, a new documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival in New York City, draws a contrast with a better-known music concert series that summer, Woodstock. But the film also gives an alternate perspective on another big event that happened during the festival, the Apollo moon landing. After showing snippets of various white people around the country expressing wonder at the achievement (such as "It's a great thing for this country" and "It's really unbelievable"), Summer of Soul then shifts to the Black concert attendees who are far less enthusiastic. Comments by one young man are presented as the typical view: "The cash they wasted, as far as I'm concerned, in getting to the Moon could have been used to feed poor Black people in Harlem and all over the place, all over this country. So like, you know, never mind the Moon. Let's get some of that cash in Harlem."
The Space Race era "rockets versus butter" argument has resurfaced as various billionaires engage in the most heated space competition since the United States and the Soviet Union raced to the Moon in the 1960s. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson took a rocket plane to space (kind of) last week, while Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is scheduled to head into space on a Blue Origin rocket on Tuesday. And, of course, Elon Musk's SpaceX has energized the commercial space industry by lowering launch costs, while also returning the U.S. to human spaceflight. And Bezos and Musk both have broader ambitions to turn humanity into a space-faring civilization where millions of us are living and working in Earth orbit and beyond.
The fact that this time it's superrich guys heading into space has created a new progressive-populist twist on the long-time anti-space sentiment of the far left. "Our social, political, and economic systems are built around the idea that tax breaks for billionaires buying leisurely space travel is more important than feeding, clothing, and housing all our children," tweeted Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.). Sen. Bernie Sanders also chimed in: "Here on Earth, in the richest country on the planet, half our people live paycheck to paycheck, people are struggling to feed themselves, struggling to see a doctor — but hey, the richest guys in the world are off in outer space! Yes. It's time to tax the billionaires." Best-selling author Stephen King had the pithiest take on the Branson flight: "A rich guy flew in a rocket plane. Let's move on."
Such critiques reveal a poor sense of economic history. The Next Big Thing often starts out as a toy or as a plaything of the rich. Recall the now iconic giant cell phone used by billionaire Gordon Gekko (portrayed by Michael Douglas) in the 1987 film Wall Street. Not only are cell phones now globally ubiquitous, but they are being used in ways few could have imagined two or three decades ago, such as indigenous people living along the Amazon using cell phone and satellite data to track illegal logging. Even the basic telephone was once viewed as little more than a novelty with little useful application. (Telegraph giant Western Union famously declined Alexander Graham Bell's offer to sell the company the patent to the new device.)
No one is sure what the killer application for the space economy will be: satellite internet, travel, tourism, manufacturing, even asteroid mining. Morgan Stanley estimates the global space industry could generate revenue of more than $1 trillion or more in 2040, up from $350 billion now, with satellite broadband playing a key role in that growth. But there's already plenty of action happening, even outside the battling billionaires. Investment in space technology has doubled over the past two years, hitting $7 billion last year. And one reason the sector has so much promise is those declining launch costs. Commercial launch services such as SpaceX have helped lower the cost of reaching low-earth orbit by a factor of 20, according to NASA. (Tech developed for smartphones has also enabled smaller satellites.) What's happening in space isn't some zero-sum geopolitical race or battle of billionaire egos, but the creation of new technologies and business models that will generate jobs and economic growth.
And while you may be underwhelmed by the spinoff economic benefits from Apollo — such as freeze-dried food and fireproof fabrics — it is also important to remember that America's space program ended prematurely in the early 1970s. The space economy that we might get over the next few decades is one we should already have — and more. And if we get it, the space billionaires will deserve a lot of credit.