Blue Origin is set to test an upgraded capsule on a sub-orbital space flight Thursday over West Texas, to validate new environmental control systems, in-cabin displays and passenger communications systems before aerospace company Jeff Bezos begins transporting people.
The company said the test launch is scheduled for 11:57 AM EST (10:57 AM CST; 1657 GMT) on Thursday from Blue Origin’s private launch site in North Van Horn, Texas, East El Paso.
Blue Origin said it plans to offer a live webcast of the mission, which will be available at the top of this page.
Powered by a BE-3 hydrogen-fueled engine, the New Shepard’s single-phase booster will launch from West Texas and is expected to propel the capsule over 62 miles, or 100 kilometers, above the internationally recognized limits of space.
The spacecraft will detach from the rocket as both spacecraft head to peak altitude, then begin their descent to Earth.
The reusable New Shepard missile will deploy the air brake and re-ignite its vertical landing engine again in the Blue Origin commercial spaceport, while the capsule will open its parachutes and launch its braking missiles for a short time to soften its landing on the nearby desert landscape.
Assuming it follows the flight plan of Blue Origin’s previous test launches, the entire mission would take about 10 minutes from takeoff to landing of the capsule.
This will be the 14th flight of the New Shepherd sub-orbital missile and capsule since 2015, but the test mission is expected to begin Thursday with the launch of a new spacecraft with all the equipment needed to carry people.
In a statement released prior to launch, Blue Origin had not confirmed that it would fly an entirely new capsule on Thursday, but sources said that was the plan. The new capsule is named “RSS First Step” with the RSS icon for reusable spaceship.
“For this mission, the crew capsule will be equipped with updates to the astronaut experience as the program approaches human spaceflight,” Blue Origin said in a statement. “The upgrades include improvements to environmental features such as acoustics and temperature regulation inside the capsule, crew display panels, and speakers with microphone and push-to-talk button in every seat.
The mission will also test a number of astronaut communications and safety warning systems. “The capsule will be equipped with six seats, including a seat occupied by Mannequin Skywalker,” the company said, referring to the flight test dummy wearing the Blue Origin flight suit that was launched on previous launches.
Blue Origin is also transporting more than 50,000 postcards from students around the world, sent to launch into space through the non-profit Blue Origin Club for the future. Postcards, some of which will fly into Mannequin Skywalker’s pockets, will be returned to students after flying in space.
Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000, and is in the final stage of testing a booster and New Shepard sub-orbital capsule before allowing people to ride the rocket into space.
Paying tourists and commercial and government researchers may be riders on future New Shepard voyages, giving customers about three to four minutes of microgravity as the capsule reaches its zenith, or the highest point of its ballistic arc. Previous New Shepard test missions have conducted aerial experiments for NASA and universities.
Blue Origin is leading a team of companies developing a human-rated lunar lander for NASA’s Artemis program, along with aviation contractors Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. Industry teams led by Dynetics and SpaceX are also competing for a NASA contract to build the human-rated moon probe.
The company is also developing a massive orbital-class missile called New Glenn, which will launch large satellites from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.
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