Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' space rocket company, was awarded a three-year contract with NASA to test different types of technologies in microgravity during suborbital flights with the company's New Shepard spacecraft.
Blue Origin is the sixth company NASA has contracted for its $45 million Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicle Flight and Payload Integration Services project, which is part of NASA's Flight Opportunities Program. Blue Origin's contract is to provide the suborbital flights on which researchers and scientists will test technologies that NASA has selected for inclusion in the program, says Leslie Williams, a spokesperson from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.
Starting this week, Blue Origin will vie against other providers of suborbital flights that are also in the Program to attract the researchers' tests, says Williams. Other companies in the program include Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, UP Aerospace from Littleton, Colorado, and California-based Masten Space Systems, which won $1 million from Google's Lunar X-Prize competition for building a lunar lander.
NASA's Flight Opportunities Program is a partnership with the commercial space industry. The program was created in 2010 to help the space agency increase the number of space crafts and ramp up space technology while helping to lower the cost of going to space by paying commercial flight companies like Blue Origin to conduct the tests and flights. NASA pays the private space companies to test technology in an effort to get that technology ready for prime time, which is the International Space Station.
Blue Origin's New Shepard is a reusable rocket that launches into suborbital space (just out of the atmosphere) and comes down to Earth to be used again. The New Shepard space capsule, which rests on top of the rocket, is supposed to hold six crew members for its first manned test flight next year. The goal is to welcome paying space tourists by 2018.
Below, watch the video of New Shepard's first successful test launch and landing in April, 2015.