After a hiatus of over a year, billionaire Jeff Bezo’s spaceflight company Blue Origin is back to its rocket launching ways, having pulled off its seventh successful launch and sixth successful booster retrieval on Tuesday.
The next generation New Shepard (NS3) lifted off from the company’s West Texas launch facility, carrying an upgraded version of its previous test capsule – Crew Capsule 2.0, which, Blue Origin claims, has “the largest windows in space,” measuring 110 centimeters in height and 73 centimeters in width. The previous version had painted-on windows.
Considering Blue Origin’s future plans of commercial passenger flights to space, which could happen as early as next year, the windows bit does make a lot of sense.
As explained on the Blue Origin website, “the New Shepard capsule’s interior is an ample 530 cubic feet – offering over 10 times the room Alan Shepard had on his Mercury flight. It seats six astronauts and is large enough for you to float freely and turn weightless somersaults.”
In addition to the capsule, there were twelve commercial, research and education payloads on board along with an “instrumented dummy” inside the capsule, appropriately dubbed the Mannequin Skywalker.
Tuesday’s launch was the seventh test flight of New Shepard and it was the first with a new rocket booster.
After achieving an altitude of 326,075 feet – just shy of the internationally recognized space boundary of 100 kilometers, booster and capsule separated and both returned to earth, landing without incident.
While the re-usable new booster made a perfect propulsive vertical landing, the capsule touched down with the help of parachutes, with Mannequin Skywalker apparently unharmed inside its ample space.
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) December 13, 2017
The recently declared richest man on the planet tweeted the success of the test launch, saying that the rocket had “a successful first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0 today. Complete with windows and our instrumented test dummy. He had a great ride.”
While the first New Shepard mission in April 2015 ended up in disaster for the booster stage, the next six New Shepard launches, including Tuesday’s flight with Crew Capsule 2.0, have all met the company’s mission expectations. Here’s a look at all seven of them.
New Shepard Test Flight 1 (April 19, 2015)
The first New Shepard rocket (NS1) test flight conducted on April 19, 2015, which saw the unmanned space vehicle reach its planned test altitude of 93.5 km at a top speed of Mach 3 (3675 km/h), was a partial success.
While the company was able to retrieve the capsule, which landed using a parachute, it was not able to recover the booster, which crashed on landing due to hydraulic failure in the vehicle control system.
New Shepard Test Flight 2 (November 23, 2015)
After losing NS1, Blue Horizon built the second New Shephard (NS2), launching it on November 23, 2015, when it went beyond the 100-kilometer mark and, both, booster and capsule landed back successfully. This was Blue Horizon’s first ever successful retrieval of the reusable booster.
New Shepard Test Flight 3 (January 22, 2016)
NS2 was used again for January 22, 2016, test flight – a demonstration and proof of the re-usability of the booster. This time around, New Shepard reached the apogee of 101.7 km, (the highest point in the development stage) and again the booster and capsule returned to Earth for retrieval and reuse.
New Shepard Test Flight 4 (April 2, 2016)
On April 2, 2016, NS2 was deployed for the third time, going beyond the 330,000 feet mark, with the booster stage and capsule returning for the usual powered landing and parachute touchdown, respectively.
New Shepard Test Flight 5 (June 19, 2016)
The fifth New Shepard launch, overall, – fourth for NS2 – took place on June 19, 2016, with the same success in terms of altitude reached and booster retrieval.
New Shepard Test Flight 6 (October 5, 2016)
NS2 was retired after its fifth and final test flight on October 5, 2016 – again a success in terms of achieving its test mission and returning safely back to the planet.
New Shepard Test Flight 7 (December 12, 2017)
The seventh New Shepard mission using the brand new NS3 and Crew Capsule was successfully accomplished on Tuesday, December 12, 2017, with the new booster returning for its vertical powered-landing while the new capsule along with its dummy passenger, Mannequin Skywalker, landing with parachutes.
If everything proceeds as planned, Blue Origin may start commercial passenger suborbital spaceflights in 2018.
While the company has not yet revealed the cost of tickets, keeping in mind that the Crew Capsule has only a six-passenger capacity, one can assume that the entire cost of a passenger flight plus intended profit will be divided by six to work out how much it’s going to cost per passenger. If only it was as simple as that!
Well, at the rate Blue Horizon is going, it shouldn’t be too long before we know for sure.
About Blue Origin
As part of his fascination with space travel and exploration, Bezos founded the start-up company, Blue Origin in 2000. He is also known to have had an early interest in the idea of “space hotels, amusement parks, colonies and small cities for 2-3 million people orbiting Earth.”
After keeping it away from the public eye for over half a decade Blue Origin became common knowledge in 2006, when a large tract of land was purchased in west Texas to build the infrastructure for launch and test purposes.
Blue Origin is basically a privately funded aerospace manufacturing and spaceflight services company headquartered in Kent, Washington.
The company has been exploring and building technologies to enable humans to get access to space travel by lowering the costs and increasing the reliability factor.
The company is approaching its futuristic dreams by adopting an incremental approach, taking it ahead step by step – hence, the company’s motto, “Gradatim Ferociter” – Latin for step-by-step.
Keeping the company’s step-by-step approach in mind, the focus was initially on sub-orbital space flight tests building the ‘New Shepard’ spacecraft at the Culberson County, Texas, facility.