Blue Origin teams in West Texas are preparing for another launch of the company’s reusable New Shepard suborbital rocket Thursday to loft dozens of microgravity research payloads to the edge of space.
The single-stage rocket is set for liftoff from Blue Origin’s privately-operated spaceport north of Van Horn, Texas, at 9:30 a.m. EDT (8:30 a.m. CDT; 1330 GMT), the company announced Tuesday.
The mission will be the 11th flight of a New Shepard rocket since 2015, and the second New Shepard launch this year.
Blue Origin will webcast the launch, and the company’s video feed is embedded on this page.
Founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin plans to fly paying passengers on future New Shepard launches. At the time of the most recent New Shepard launch in January, company officials said humans could ride the New Shepard to the edge of space and back to Earth by the end of the year.
Powered by a single hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine, the New Shepard rocket launches vertically from a pad at Blue Origin’s remote test site in West Texas. A pressurized crew capsule on top of the rocket will carry passengers on future missions, but Thursday’s launch will loft 38 microgravity research payloads, including nine sponsored by NASA.
The BE-3 engine will fire for nearly two-and-a-half minutes to drive the New Shepard rocket into the sky. The crew capsule — without human occupants on Thursday’s flight — will separate from the top of the New Shepard booster moments later as both vehicles coast to an apogee, or peak altitude, above 62 miles (100 kilometers).
The 100-kilometer mark is known as the Kármán line, the internationally-recognized boundary of space.
The experiments carried by the crew capsule will encounter a few minutes of weightlessness as the vehicles arc over and begin falling back to Earth. The weightless conditions are similar to the environment future passengers will experience.
The New Shepard booster will deploy drag brakes during its plunge back into the atmosphere, then will reignite its BE-3 main engine to slow down for a vertical landing around 10 minutes after liftoff. Four landing legs will extend from the base of the rocket just before it settles on a landing pad about 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the New Shepard’s launch site.
Meanwhile, the crew capsule will parachute to a landing nearby on the desert floor.
Blue Origin has flown three versions of its reusable New Shepard rocket. The first rocket was lost in a crash on landing in 2015, and the second unit flew five times before retirement. A third New Shepard vehicle has completed four successful missions.
Blue Origin delivered a fourth New Shepard propulsion module to the West Texas test site late last year from the company’s factory in Kent, Washington. Officials said the fourth iteration of the New Shepard is the rocket that will carry people.
Blue Origin has not publicly disclosed when the latest New Shepard vehicle will debut, or which flight will be the first include human passengers. In Wednesday’s announcement, Blue Origin did not say which New Shepard rocket will be used on Thursday’s flight, which is designated New Shepard-11.
The New Shepard is a stepping stone to Blue Origin’s larger ambitions, which include the development of a heavy-lift orbital-class rocket named the New Glenn. The inaugural launch of the New Glenn rocket from Cape Canaveral is scheduled for 2021.
NEW SHEPARD MISSION NS-11 UPDATES
May 2, 2019 Update:
New Shepard had a great mission on May 2, 2019. This particular rocket has flown to space and back 5 times. The mission flew 38 payloads for a variety of schools, universities, government agencies and private companies.
May 1, 2019:
We’re targeting New Shepard’s next launch on May 2, 2019, with liftoff scheduled for 8:30 am CDT / 13:30 UTC. The mission, named NS-11, will take 38 payloads above the Kármán line into space.
Some of the payloads flying with us include:
Orbital Medicine – Orbital Medicine, a small business focused on aerospace medicine, comes to us through funding from NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. On NS-11, Marsh Cuttino, MD, will demonstrate an experimental medical technology designed to treat a collapsed lung in zero gravity (which is a gravity-dependent procedure). Thanks to a previous flight on New Shepard, Dr. Cuttino has been able to evolve the technology and this flight will prove a near-final version that could one day save lives in space.
New Century Technology High School – A group of students from Huntsville, AL have designed an experiment to test temperature fluctuations in microgravity. The students were excited to get hands-on experience for a project they’ll be able to launch to space and worked with NASA engineers to perfect their design. By lowering launch costs, more and more students will have the chance to design, build and send technology to space.
MIT Media Lab Space Exploration Initiative – The Space Exploration Initiative is built on the spirit of the MIT Media Lab, uniting artists, engineers, scientists, and designers. As the first MIT flight with New Shepard, the Space Exploration Initiative is flying several scientific payloads, as well as two projects that use zero gravity as a medium for works of art. Telepresent Drawings in Space uses graphite to create a drawing that could only have been made in space. Living Distance: A Spider-Inspired Robotic Dance in Weightlessness demonstrates a crystalline robotic device that navigates zero gravity, similar to a performance. Other payloads include TESSERAE: Self Assembling Space Architecture, Floral Cosmonauts: Crystal Electro-Nucleation and Queen Bee Maiden Flight.
Blue Origin will update this thread with more mission information as updates become available.