Blue Origin nails another rocket mission ahead of space tourism flights

Blue Origin completed a suborbital space mission on Wednesday, December 11, with the successful launch and landing of a New Shepard rocket. The launch was delayed by a day due to poor weather conditions.

This particular booster — part of a reusable system designed to cut the cost of spaceflight — launched for the sixth time from Blue Origin’s spaceport in the West Texas desert at t 12:53 p.m. ET, with the whole event streamed live by the company on YouTube. Blue Origin’s livestream (highlights below) showed New Shepard make a perfect touchdown 7 minutes and 25 seconds after launch, while the capsule, slowed by its parachutes before landing on the desert floor, landed 10 minutes and 10 seconds after launch.

Wednesday’s crewless mission marked the 12th flight overall for Blue Origin’s New Shepard, and the ninth time it’s launched with a commercial payload on board.

This time around, the rocket carried with it several NASA experiments, including a recycling technology payload called Oscar, supplied by NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Oscar is designed to use common waste to create a mixture of gasses that can be used for propulsion or life support during a human mission into deep space.

Also on board was the winning art from a contest organized by Blue Origin in partnership with rock band OK Go that gave high school and middle school students a chance to send art experiments into space.

The rocket took with it thousands of postcards, too, sent by students to Blue Origin’s nonprofit Club for the Future whose mission is to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM (science, tech, engineering, and math) and help visualize the future of life in space.

Space tourism

One of Blue Origin’s short-term goals is to use its rocket to launch space tourism services for moneyed individuals. Going by Wednesday’s mission, when the niche travel service finally gets off the ground, the passengers can expect to reach speeds of around 2,200 mph during the ascent. Following the separation of the crew capsule from the booster at around 250,000 feet, the capsule will go on to reach an altitude of around 340,000 feet — about 12,000 feet above the Karman Line that is widely considered as where space begins. At this point, anyone inside the capsule will experience several minutes of weightlessness as they enjoy what promises to be stunning views of Earth.

“As we move towards verifying New Shepard for human spaceflight, we are continuing to mature the safety and reliability of the vehicle,” the private spaceflight company, founded by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, said following this week’s mission.

The company is also developing a more powerful rocket called New Glenn and is also hoping to have its Blue Moon lander selected by NASA for a future lunar mission.

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