Jeff Bezos’ private spaceflight company Blue Origin has successfully launched and landed its New Shepard vehicle on its latest mission, NS-14, with hopes that human flights can begin soon.
The mission launched today, Thursday, January 14 at 12.17 P.M. Eastern Time from the company’s Launch Site One in West Texas.
The mission saw the company’s 18-meter-tall rocket launch a capsule to the boundary of space, one that’s designed to eventually carry humans at a cost of $200,000 or so per ticket.
Before reaching its maximum altitude of almost 107 kilometers, officially in space, the capsule had separated from the rocket, the moment that future space tourists will experience weightlessness on the short trip to and from space.
Both the capsule and booster then began their descent to Earth, with the latter restarting its onboard engine to land safely back on the ground roughly seven minutes after launching, with the help of fins to guide it.
The capsule, meanwhile, descended safely back to Earth via parachute, where it then came to a gentle landing back on the ground.
While New Shepard has flown 13 times before, most recently in October 2020, this mission saw the capsule fitted “with upgrades for the astronaut experience as the program nears human space flight,” according to Blue Origin.
“The upgrades include improvements to environmental features such as acoustics and temperature regulation inside the capsule, crew display panels, and speakers with a microphone and push-to-talk button at each seat.”
The mission also had a “dummy human” on board, nicknamed Mannequin Skywalker, who sat in one of the capsule’s six seats.
Also on board were 50,000 postcards written by students from account the world, some of which were in the dummy’s pockets.
A date for human flights has not yet been set, but Blue Origin is expected to target them to begin at some point later this year.
Bezos, who has traded places with rival and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk over the last few days for the title of “world’s richest person”, wants the company to soon begin orbital flights too.
This will be with a new rocket called New Glenn, named for astronaut John Glenn, which was recently selected by NASA as a potential rocket for future missions.
For now all eyes are on New Shepard, and whether the rocket can finally fulfill its goal of launching humans at some point in 2021.
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