Private spaceflight company Blue Origin will attempt to launch and land its New Shepard rocket for the fourth time this weekend — and this time, we’ll get to watch the test flight live. After announcing earlier this week that the launch would take place on Friday, CEO Jeff Bezos tweeted out today that the company is aiming to launch on Sunday. A live webcast will show the event at BlueOrigin.com; Bezos said the test flight is scheduled for 10:15 AM ET, and the webcast will begin around 9:45AM ET.
This is the first time that Blue Origin has provided a live stream of one of its launches, suggesting that the company is trying to be more transparent with its projects. That’s smart, since Blue Origin has been criticized for its super secret reputation in the past. Up until recently, the company rarely gave interviews about its work, and the first few test flights of the New Shepard weren't publicized until after they had been completed. And even then, Blue Origin didn’t provide much information about the flights, apart from releasing highly stylized videos.
The company is trying to be more transparent with its projects
But recent events suggest the company is transitioning to a more open mindset. In March, Bezos invited a small group of journalists to the company’s headquarters in Kent, Washington for the first time. And the CEO announced the most recent test flight of the New Shepard in April, before it actually took place. He even live-tweeted the event, letting people know that the vehicle had launched and landed smoothly.
Transparency is going to be crucial for Blue Origin, since the company’s main goal revolves around sending tourists into space. That’s what these uncrewed test flights of the New Shepard are all about. The reusable vehicle is designed to launch a crew capsule up to 62 miles above the Earth’s surface, where six passengers will experience about four minutes of weightlessness. In the test flights, the crew capsule detaches from the rest of the New Shepard vehicle in space, and both fall back to Earth. The main rocket body is supposed to reignite its engines and land upright on solid ground, while the crew capsule deploys parachutes to lower itself down gently.
Blue Origin has successfully demonstrated this launch and landing technique with the same uncrewed New Shepard vehicle three times before. But for this next test, Blue Origin wants to know what happens when that landing sequence doesn’t go according to plan. On Sunday, two of the crew capsule’s parachutes will intentionally fail to deploy during the spacecraft’s descent. Bezos claims that the vehicle can handle the scenario just fine, and theoretically, any people on board would be safe. But for added protection, the crew capsule has some backup systems — such as retro-rockets and a "crushable structure" — to help keep passengers alive if an abnormal landing should occur.
Blue Origin plans to continue uncrewed test flights of New Shepard throughout the rest of the year. Bezos said that the vehicle will start carrying test pilots into space sometime in 2017, and paying customers could start riding as early as 2018.
Update June 17th, 11AM ET: The article was updated with the time of the launch and landing on Sunday.
Update June 16th, 10AM ET: Blue Origin originally planned to launch on Friday, but the company rescheduled the launch today because of a problem with the rocket's capsule. The launch will now take place on Sunday. On Twitter, Jeff Bezos said that the O-ring in the capsule's pressurization system had been leaking nitrogen gas and needed to be replaced. The article has been updated to reflect the new launch date.