Blue Origin – a start-up space company owned by Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos – launched an experimental suborbital spaceship from Texas, the first in a series of test-flights to develop commercial unmanned and passenger spaceflight services, the company said on Thursday (30 April).
The New Shepard vehicle blasted off on Wednesday (29 April) from Blue Origin's test facility near Van Horn, Texas, and rose to an altitude of 58 miles before the capsule separated and parachuted to Earth.
"Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return," Bezos said in a statement.
The descent of the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen-fuelled rocket, however, was not successful.
"We lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent," Bezos said. "Fortunately, we've already been in work for some time on an improved hydraulic system ... We'll be ready to fly again soon."
Blue Origin is among a handful of companies developing privately owned spaceships to fly experiments, satellites and passengers into space. Like Virgin Galactic, a US offshoot of Richard Branson's London-based Virgin Group, and privately owned XCOR Aerospace, Blue Origin is eyeing suborbital spaceflights, which reach altitudes of about 62 miles, as a stepping stone to orbital flight.
Virgin Galactic plans to resume test flights of its six-passenger, two-pilot SpaceShipTwo vehicle later this year, following a fatal accident in October. California-based XCOR plans to begin test flights of its two-person Lynx space plane in late 2015 as well.
Boeing and SpaceX, both of which have financial support from Nasa, are skipping suborbital flight and building space taxis to ferry crews to and from the International Space Station, which flies about 250 miles above Earth.
Blue Origin expects to fly New Shepard dozens of times unmanned before test pilots are aboard, company President Rob Meyerson told reporters during an 7 April conference call. The capsule is designed to fly three people and/or a mix of passengers and payloads to suborbital space.