‘Mannequin Skywalker’ takes flight on Blue Origin rocket
(CNN Money) — Blue Origin, the space exploration outfit headed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, sent a dummy on a test flight to space on Tuesday.
Named “Mannequin Skywalker,” the dummy is a nod to the famed Star Wars character Anakin Skywalker, otherwise known as Darth Vader. It was meant to serve as a stand-in for the space tourists who will one day pay Blue Origin to take a brief trip to space and see the Earth from afar.
Bezos announced the successful test flight via a tweet Tuesday night that contained footage of the launch.
It marks the seventh successful test of a New Shepard rocket and the first for the company’s updated Crew Capsule, the design for which was unveiled in March. It boasts 42.7-inch-tall windows, which the company says are the “largest windows in space.”
Blue Origin’s CEO, Bob Smith, said in October that the company may send its first paying customers to space by April 2019.
The company hasn’t started selling tickets yet, so there’s no word on how much they’ll charge for the ride.
Blue Origin was founded nearly two decades ago, and so far it’s only conducted unmanned test flights, the first of which occurred in 2015.
The flights last about 10 minutes. After the rocket takes off, the capsule detaches from the top portion and continues flying until it reaches about 62 miles above the Earth’s surface. That’s considered the “edge of space,” the border between Earth’s immediate atmosphere and outer space, where space tourists will be able to briefly experience microgravity before parachuting back to Earth inside the capsule.
Blue Origin, much like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, designed the New Shepard rocket to be reused. So the rocket falls back to Earth and briefly fires up its engines again to make a soft landing.
Unlike SpaceX, however, Blue Origin’s rockets don’t reach Earth’s orbit, which requires much higher speeds.
The company has unveiled plans to eventually reach orbit. A massive new rocket, called New Glenn, will be capable to taking payloads — such as satellites or spacecrafts — into orbit. That would allow Blue Origin to compete with companies like SpaceX for lucrative launch contracts.
The factory where New Glenn will be built was recently constructed in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It’s scheduled to be up and running by the end of the month.