Spaceports battle for space tourists

VAN HORN, Texas (KRQE) - Virgin Galactic and its future base, New Mexico's Spaceport America, have a serious competitor chomping at their heels from a private spaceport in far West Texas.

After years of mostly secret research and testing, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is making a big public move on the space tourism market with his personal rocket company, Blue Origin.

Following a recent successful unmanned test flight of the company's 'New Shepard' spacecraft at Bezos' private spaceport near Van Horn, Texas, they now have a new online marketing campaign aggressively targeting would-be space adventurers.

The slick online recruiting video features Blue Origin Chief of Mission Assurance and former NASA astronaut Jeff Ashby making the pitch.

"You get this hair-raising ride," says Ashby, as a high resolution animation shows a space tourism blast off. "The shaking, and thunder and acceleration."

"Once you're there," he adds, as animation shows astronauts floating and looking out wide windows, "it's a feast for the senses."

The New Shepard capsule blasts off vertically, the old fashioned way, on top of a rocket booster.

After future astronauts spend about four minutes in space, the capsule comes back by parachute, landing near the launch site.

The Blue Origin spaceport is in the Texas desert about 30 miles south of the New Mexico state line, along the highway between Carlsbad, New Mexico and Van Horn, Texas.

Engine test stands and launch pads dotting the sprawling desert floor make it look much like a NASA facility. But this piece of desert and all the rocket hardware belongs to Bezos.

His rocket scientists have quietly been conducting tests out there for years.

Van Horn is the closest town, about 30 miles away.

Blue Origin staffers have bought some homes in the small community of 2,000. During various rocket system tests they also rent lots of rooms at places like the historic Hotel El Capitan founded in 1930.

But the tests have been sporadic over the years.

The town gets quieter and the extra cash flow ebbs for weeks at a time when Blue Origin is not testing out at the Spaceport.

Lisa Morton, who works at the local paper, the Van Horn Advocate, says folks look forward to the day space tourists come to town even those who don't necessary want to ride a rocket themselves.

"So if we can get the people off the interstate," she said, "even off of curiosity to see what's going on out here in the desert, then that would be great for us as well."

Each New Shepard flight can carry six astronauts for fun trips.

Scientists will also be able to buy research flights for themselves and their equipment.

After setting its capsule free in space, each Blue Origin booster rocket would land softly under its own power and be re-used.

With online forms at its website, the company is now taking names of those who want to be contacted when the first astronaut tickets are available.

Blue Origin also says if you buy a ticket for one of these first shorter sub-orbital trips, you will be offered one of the first seats available on the company's future, and much bigger, 'orbital' rocket.

That craft would allow space tourists to spend days in orbit instead of just a few minutes in the slice of outer space above West Texas.

Web Extra: Blue Origin Spaceport Aerial Tour

Private Spaceport Near Van Horn, Texas. Sky News 13 Pilot-Reporter Bob Martin takes you on an aerial tour of the secretive and private launch site and test range near Van Horn, Texas.


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