Update January 23rd, 10:30AM ET: Blue Origin’s launch was a success. After reaching a height of 66 miles, both the capsule and booster landed safely in the Texas desert. During the live stream, Ariane Cornell mentioned that the company is hoping to do its first crewed flights before the end of this year.
Original Story: This morning, Jeff Bezos’ private spaceflight venture Blue Origin is set to conduct another test flight of its New Shepard rocket — a vehicle designed to take passengers to the edge of space and back. It’ll be the first launch of the year for the company, and the tenth overall for the New Shepard system. With each new test, Blue Origin gets one step closer to putting people on the rocket, a milestone the company hopes to achieve this year.
The New Shepard is a fully reusable rocket, which means the entire system is recovered after each flight and then flown again. It consists of two main parts: a rocket booster and capsule for carrying people. During each launch, the booster climbs through the atmosphere, carrying the capsule beyond the edge of space — about 62 miles up. Around this height, the booster and capsule separate. It’s at this point that any people on board would feel the sensation of weightlessness. Not long afterward, both the booster and capsule fall back to Earth; the booster reignites its engine to land upright on the ground, while three parachutes lower the capsule gently to the surface.
To prepare the New Shepard for carrying people, Blue Origin has been conducting uncrewed test flights of the vehicle out of the company’s test facility in West Texas. The New Shepard vehicle flying today has already launched from this location three times before. The rocket flew to space twice in 2018 and once at the end of 2017, landing successfully each time. Blue Origin had also flown a previous iteration of the New Shepard rocket five times to space and back, before retiring the hardware in 2016.
Blue Origin says it will introduce a more advanced New Shepard vehicle soon, one that will carry the first passengers to space this year. However, the exact timeframe for that is uncertain, and Blue Origin isn’t selling tickets for the time being. Ticket prices haven’t been set either, according to Ariane Cornell, head of astronaut strategy and sales at Blue Origin, despite reports claiming the costs will hover around $200,000 per seat.
Although today’s flight will be uncrewed, the rocket will have eight science payloads on board. Blue Origin has a deal with NASA through the space agency’s Flight Opportunities program to help institutions conduct research in microgravity. And since the New Shepard experiences a few minutes of weightlessness during each flight, Blue Origin can offer a unique testing environment for experiments. This vehicle will carry payloads to measure the electromagnetic field surrounding New Shepard, as well as an experiment to test out how to keep tightly packed electronics cool during spaceflight.
This mission was originally scheduled to occur in late December 2018, but Blue Origin had to postpone the flight due to some issues with the ground infrastructure needed for the launch. The company says those problems have been resolved and it’s ready to fly the rocket at 9:50AM ET this morning. Weather is looking good for the attempt, too. Blue Origin, which used to never announce its tests, will provide a live stream closer to launch time. Check back later to watch this particular New Shepard launch to space for the fourth time.
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