Science

Blue Origin, SpaceX reach milestones in 2017 ahead of busy year

EPA / ANDREW GOMBERT

Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight company Blue Origin came a little closer this month to accomplishing its mission of sending tourists to space. Named “Mannequin Skywalker” in reference to the Star Wars character Anakin Skywalker, the company’s test dummy successfully made the trip 100 km into the sky to the Karman line and landed safely back on Earth. The Karman line represents the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. “He had a great ride,” Bezos wrote on Twitter following the test launch.

The dummy was aboard the suborbital New Shepherd rocket from Blue Origin’s West Texas facility and was its seventh successful test. CEO Bob Smith said earlier this year that the first paying customers could be sent to space by April 2019, however, competitor SpaceX led by South African billionaire Elon Musk plans to send two tourists on a trip around the moon in by the end of next year. SpaceX launched its latest Falcon 9 rocket on December 22 (pictured), marking the company’s 18th launch this year and announced it would be launching a massive new rocket called Falcon Heavy in January. The vehicle would also bring Musk’s company a step closer to its ultimate goal – reaching Mars.

On a similar note, Blue Origin is working on its orbital launch vehicle, the New Glenn, which has been contracted for seven launches upon its completion and is being entirely funded by Bezos. The cost of manufacturing the 7-meter-diameter rocket is currently estimated at about $2.5 billion.

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