The spacecraft of Blue Origin on which Jeff Bezos will climb, New Shepard, has so far successfully flown 15 flights. But nobody has ever been on board. New Shepard is a fully autonomous vehicle, remotely piloted. Bezos and his travel companions – three passengers plus an astronaut qualified to support the four civilians in the most critical phases during the journey – cannot in any way modify or interfere with the flight path. The only thing travelers can do is fasten and unfasten their seat belts.
How safe is Bezos’ flight
The Federal Aviation Administration, a body that deals with regulating civil aviation in the US, has in no way certified neither Blue Origin’s flights nor those of billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactici. It cannot do so, in fact, at least until 2023. Too strict rules and procedures, in fact, would prevent the two companies from progressing in what is considered a period of experimentation and learning. For this New Shepard passengers who will fly together with Bezos, as well as future Virgin Galactic customers, will have to sign a document in which they declare themselves informed of the risks they run.
The FAA, with regard to these first flights at the border with the Space for tourists, can only determine the procedures that secure all people not involved in the flight, and therefore on the ground.
What is the probability of an accident
According to George Nield, former FAA’s own associate administrator interviewed by Business Insider, Bezos’ flight is about “10,000 times more risky than one on an airliner”. An analysis carried out by Nield himself has revealed how 1% of space flights performed by humans ended in tragedy.
It seems like a very low percentage, but in reality another expert reached by Live Science, the engineer Joseph Fragola who for decades has calculated similar risks on behalf of NASA, confirms that the risks associated with space travel are very high: “Compared to those that are run on traditional airplanes, they are tremendous”.
The eventuality that something goes wrong (calculated on the history of Blue Origin rockets so far, ed) is between 1 in 100 and 1 in 500, with a plausible estimate that settles on 1 in 200 “. These are possibilities, after all, not so remote if we consider that – again on the basis of the calculations made by the engineer – the probability of an air crash today is between 1 in 100 million and 1 in 1 billion.
What are the differences compared to a NASA flight
The thrust to which the passengers of New Shepard will be subjected, during take-off, is however extremely lower than that generated by the NASA spacecraft: 50 thousand kg against 544 thousand kg. New Shepard’s single engine, less powerful, and the distance between it and the capsule the crew is in, are two factors that reduce the chances of a fatal accident and that increase the success of a possible emergency procedure.
So are there emergency procedures?
In a video released by Blue Origin to April 2021, one of New Shepard’s design managers says the spacecraft is equipped with a safety system that, in the event of danger or damage to the rocket’s core, can eject the capsule at any time during flight. According to information released by Blue Origin, this emergency procedure has been tested in the past, successfully, three times: once directly from the launch pad, another in full flight and one last at the highest point reached by the rocket. A video published by Blue Origin on YouTube, in 2013, shows how what is called the “pad escape” went, in this case it happened from a lanio ramp in Texas.
All Bezos flight, explained
The New Shepard spacecraft is part of a reusable carrier rocket taking off and landing vertically. When New Shepard comes around 100 km high, what is conventionally considered the border with Space, the capsule containing the passengers detaches from the central body of the rocket, continues its trajectory in conditions of microgravity for a short time and returns independently to Earth, operating a parachute.
The whole journey takes just 11 minutes. The capsule detaches after only 3 minutes from take-off. Its passengers will cross the boundaries of space for another 3 minutes before descending back to our planet.