Blue Origin has been making some significant progress with its programs as the company continues its march forward with increased focus from chief executive Jeff Bezos.
This month, the space exploration company completed the second test flight for its New Shepard rocket this year. According to reports, the launch was the second this year and the fifteenth New Shepard liftoff overall. The test involved the New Shepardbooster and capsule, marking a significant point for the company in its mission to launch people into space.
NS-15 Marks a Milestone
The mission, tagged NS-15, didn’t have any passengers on board. However, the New Shepardcapsule that was involved in the test has the capacity to carry up to six people. There is every probability that it will be the first capsule that Blue Origin takes on future flights. NS-15 launched from Blue Origin’s West Texas private facility, marking a “verification process” for the capsule and rocket before being able to transport people - according to Blue Origin.
New Shepardappears to be Blue Origin’s flagship rocket for now. The rocket is designed to carry people past the edge of space, with capsules on previous test flights being able to hit over 340,000 feet in altitude. The New Shepardcapsule can also spend up to ten minutes in zero gravity, right before it docks back on Earth.
According to reports, the mission this month saw the rocket hit 348,750 feet in altitude. That alone is above the recognized space boundary. For a company that seemed to only be focusing on sub-orbital flight, this is more than a significant accomplishment.
Prepping for Human Crewed Flights
While NS-15 was similar to several other New Shepardmissions, it also had several prominent distinctions. For instance, NS-15 came with a rehearsal component that included people acting as private astronaut customers. This means that all these people went through the flight preparation process - including transportation to the launch pad and actually climbing the New Shepardtransport vehicle.
After getting seated, however, Blue Origin paused the NS-15 countdown, allowing the mock crew to disembark before continuing. The flight went through as planned, without passengers on board. The only object aboard was Mannequin Skywalker, the test dummy that Blue Origin built to fly on test missions and take readings during the entire process.
The launch went through, with New Shepardcoming back to Earth without any hitches. The flight seemed to be New Sheppard’s smoothest landing yet, showing that Blue Origin appears to have improved its booster and landing gear. The spacecraft’s parachute descent system performed optimally, making for a safe and smooth landing.
As explained earlier, NS-15 is the second of two test flights to occur this year. The first, unsurprisingly named NS-14, was recorded in January, and it had Blue Origin debut its new rocket booster and capsule.
For now, Blue Origin believes that it will soon launch crewed flights into space. In fact, some news sources believe that the company should be ready to have crewed test flights aboard the NS-16 flight. Hopefully, that will happen before the year runs out.
Blue Origin appears to be readying for testing the loading and unloading gear. In a blog post, a spokesperson for the firm said:
“The primary operations will entail Blue Origin personnel standing in as astronauts entering into the capsule prior to launch. These astronauts will climb the launch tower, get into their seats, buckle their harnesses, and conduct a communications check from their seat with CAPCOM, the Capsule Communicator. The tower operations team will prepare the capsule cabin for launch and then briefly close the capsule hatch. The astronauts will then exit the capsule prior to launch.”
A Bright Future for Blue Origin
It goes without saying that Blue Origin has a lot going for it at this point. The company’s new success with the New Shepardsystem shows that it is ready to move forward with crewed flights - a step that could put it on equal footing with SpaceX in the commercial spaceflight industry.
For now, Blue Origin seems poised to continue with its tests. The company already lost out to SpaceX in its mission to build NASA’s lunar lander system, with many believing that SpaceX’s flexibility in pricing gave it the edge. While the contract loss was a setback, it allows Blue Origin to refocus its energies and shape its future as it sees fit.
Blue Origin will also benefit from increased focus as Jeff Bezos is gearing up to leave his position as Amazon’s chief executive later this year. The billionaire announced his resignation from his e-commerce conglomerate earlier in 2021, explaining that he plans to focus his time on other ventures - chiefly, Blue Origin and his climate change initiatives.
Bezos will be bringing additional funding as he focuses his efforts on Blue Origin. The billionaire already spends $1 billion annually on the company, and industry insiders believe that he could increase his stake even more going forward.
Blue Origin also has some work to do with the New Glenn rocket and its plans for space-based internet connectivity. The company appears to be developing infrastructure similar to SpaceX’s Starlink, bringing both firms in close contention in yet another area - and deepening the rivalry between Bezos and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.