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A computational fluid dynamics image shows how air would behave when Rocketplane XP flies at 2.74 times the speed of sound; red is high pressure, blue is low. (NASA)

The O Prize

Will Rocketplane launch spacecraft from Oklahoma?

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And, working in secret, Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has built a self-funded company, Blue Origin, to produce a suborbital tourist spaceship called New Shepard (after Alan B., America’s first astronaut). New Shepard would take off, send three passengers on 10-minute flights out of the atmosphere, return, and land on its tail. According to Environmental Protection Agency papers he has filed, Bezos plans to launch tourists to space by 2010.

With all this competition, it seems possible that within the next decade or two, suborbital passenger service to space could drop to the cost of an ordinarily expensive vacation—a Caribbean cruise, say. But not all of those passengers would be space tourists. In fact, most of them wouldn’t be. “We think that the future for suborbital is really in point to point, both for people and for fast cargo,” said Rocketplane’s Chuck Lauer.

In other words, the biggest market would be for intercontinental travel at rocket speed.

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