Update May 2nd, 10:00AM ET: Blue Origin successfully performed another test launch of its New Shepard system today. Both the New Shepard rocket and capsule touched down safely back at the company’s West Texas facility around 10 minutes after liftoff. The capsule reached about 346,000 feet, or more than 65 miles, eclipsing the recognized boundary of space.
This morning, Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight venture Blue Origin will send its suborbital rocket to space on its 11th test flight — part of the company’s ongoing efforts to ready the vehicle for flying passengers. There won’t be any human riders on this launch, but the vehicle will be carrying dozens of research payloads to the edge of space and back for NASA and other organizations.
Blue Origin’s ride for future space tourists is the New Shepard — a reusable rocket designed to fly 62 miles or 100 kilometers above the Earth, crossing the boundary to space. At that height, any passengers on board would get to experience just a few minutes of weightlessness before coming back to the planet’s surface.
To get to that altitude, the rocket takes off from Blue Origin’s launch facility in West Texas, lofting a crew capsule into the sky. Once the rocket reaches the right altitude, the capsule separates from the rocket, and both parts of the vehicle hover high above the Earth for a few minutes. They then fall back to the planet to land gently on the ground; parachutes lower the capsule to the Earth, while the rocket ignites its engine again to land upright on a landing pad. It’s a trip that takes just 11 minutes to complete, but it should make for an intense ride for anyone on board.
So far, Blue Origin has seen a lot of success with its test flights. The New Shepard has landed nine out of the 10 times it’s flown, and the vehicle has proven that it can keep people safe even in emergency scenarios. However, there still isn’t a solid timeline for when the first test passengers will fly on the vehicle, and the company has not started selling tickets to customers yet. The rocket flying this week is the third iteration of the New Shepard vehicle, and the company has built a fourth version that will take the first crews to space. That rocket is supposed to fly sometime this year, according to Blue Origin, but exactly when is still unclear.
While people haven’t been able to ride on New Shepard yet, the rocket has given rides to lots of research experiments. The vehicle’s last flight carried eight microgravity experiments to the edge of space, and this next trip will carry 38 research payloads. Nine of the payloads were coordinated through NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, which helps researchers find ways to test their space experiments in proper environments. Some of these include an experiment for 3D printing in space and a payload to test out how space dust behaves in microgravity. The New Shepard capsule will also be carrying various instruments developed by school children.
Takeoff for this flight is scheduled for 9:30AM ET on Thursday, May 2nd. Both Blue Origin and NASA will be live-streaming this one, with NASA’s coverage starting just after 9AM ET. Check back then to watch New Shepard see space again.