Blue Origin plans to launch its reusable, suborbital rocket New Shepard, carrying a space capsule equipped with a dummy and a handful of scientific experiments, to the edge of space for the eighth time.
Thunder storms have delayed the launch slightly to 11:15 am ET/10:15 am CT. Founder Jeff Bezos says this launch will be shared live with the public, starting about 15 minutes before an expected launch time. We’ll embed the video here when it goes live.
Today’s flight, from the company’s Texas test facility, is expected to last about 20 minutes and reach roughly 100 kilometers above the earth. Both the rocket booster and space capsule will return to earth; Blue will further refine the capsule for human flight later this year.
The capsule will also carry a half dozen experiments that will benefit from spending several minutes in microgravity while the capsule free falls at the peak of its ballistic trajectory. The experiments test systems such as wi-fi and life-support for future space missions, as well as instruments designed to study distant stars and meteorites. Finding a way to get experiments into this environment is a historical challenge for space researchers, and they are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to to do it.
This is the eighth launch of the New Shepard design, which debuted in 2015, and the second launch for this particular vehicle, which was built last year. Bezos says his company hopes to fly humans into space in 2018 and will soon begin flying regular trips ferrying luxury tourists to the edge of space. They’ll be writing their own rules as the new private space industry emerges.
The effort will inform the technology and prepare the public for Blue’s long-term goal of supporting millions of people living and working in space.
Mannequin Skywalker is ready for his 2nd mission on board New Shepard. He’s a little sensitive about being called a “dummy”, as he will be conducting astronaut telemetry and science studies – a very important job! pic.twitter.com/h2ncpGWaTi
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) April 28, 2018
This the second time the company has shared a flight test in real-time, following a demonstration of its in-flight escape system in 2016. Compared to its rival, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Blue has kept its work under wraps. The New Shepard, while an award-winning piece of space technology, is a smaller and less extreme vehicle than the Falcon 9 rocket that has proven to be Musk’s workhorse.
Blue Origin won’t be stopping with New Shepard and the routine space tourism; it’s also developing a powerful new engine and rocket for missions into orbit that will compete directly with SpaceX and the rest of the launch-vehicle industry.