On Thursday, Blue Origin — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space travel company — was selected by NASA to help transport technology payloads to the edge of space. Blue Origin now joins five other companies that are already part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program — an initiative that provides companies, government and academia to test their promising space technologies.
Blue Origin, which has successfully launched and landed its flagship New Shepard rocket thrice, will now compete with five other companies — Masten Space Systems, Near Space Corporation, UP Aerospace, Virgin Galactic and World View Enterprises — for opportunities to carry payloads to suborbital space.
“We are pleased to have Blue Origin join our cadre of Flight Opportunities service providers,” Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington, said in a statement released Friday. “Adding additional flight providers enables NASA and the broader aerospace community to demonstrate and transition space technologies, developing new capabilities faster and, potentially, at lower cost.”
Blue Origin will use the New Shepard, equipped with the tried-and-tested BE-3 engine, to run these missions. In a statement published on its website, the company states that its payload system “is ideal for microgravity physics, gravitational biology, technology demonstrations, and educational programs.”
Although Blue Origin was founded in 2000, it captured the limelight only last year, when Bezos announced it would set up shop at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force base, where it will build and launch rockets into orbit “later this decade.”
The company is competing against Elon Musk’s SpaceX to reduce the cost of space travel. Currently, the first stage of a rocket is discarded after each use, making spaceflight — even a suborbital one — dauntingly expensive. In order to reduce these costs, Blue Origin and SpaceX have been racing to develop reusable rockets. However, unlike SpaceX’s Falcon 9, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket is only designed to take people to suborbital space — a height of just over 62 miles.