October 23, 2021

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What is suborbital flight? (And why do we care?)

5 min read

Suborbital space missions are in the news as the founders of Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin take their maiden flights. But what exactly does suborbital mean, and does the technology have uses beyond helping billionaires race each other to space?

Today (July 20), Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the world’s richest man, will blast off in the New Shepard rocket built by his private space company Blue Origin. This will be the firm’s first crewed mission and will fly to an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers) before landing again at the same launchpad. Bezos was beaten to the edge of space by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, who flew July 11 to an altitude of 53 miles (86 km) in a rocket-powered spaceplane built by his company Virgin Galactic.

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