On July 11th, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, could fly to space aboard the SpaceShipTwo to assess the company’s private astronaut experience. If you ask rival company Blue Origin, though, Branson won’t really be reaching space when he does. In a couple of tweets, the Jeff Bezos-owned space corporation compared what its own New Shepard suborbital vehicle can do with SpaceShipTwo’s capabilities. First in the list? The company says New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line, whereas its competitor’s vehicle was not.
The Kármán line is the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space as set by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. It’s defined as 100 kilometers or 62 miles above sea level, and according to Blue Origin, it’s what “96 percent of the world’s population” recognizes as the beginning of outer space. Blue Origin plans to offer customers 10 minutes of flight with an altitude that reaches the Kármán line. Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic’s website says its flights will soar at “nearly” 300,000 feet (57 miles) in altitude. That doesn’t quite reach the Kármán line, though that’s still higher than what NASA and the US government defines as the beginning of space (50 miles above sea level).
Aside from comparing their vehicles’ maximum altitudes, Blue Origin also made it a point to mention that the New Shepard has the largest windows in space. Also, the New Shepard is a rocket, but SpaceShipTwo, according to Blue Origin, is just a high-altitude plane. The company published the comparison after Virgin Galactic scheduled Branson’s trip to space before Jeff Bezos’ — the multi-billionaire and his brother will join Blue Origin’s first suborbital tourist flight that’s scheduled for a July 20th launch.
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