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Blue Origin tests crew capsule upgrades in latest rocket launch

Replay - New Shepard Mission NS-14 Webcast

Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, performed another successful test flight of its New Shepard rocket on Thursday, January 14.

The company is aiming to use the rocket for suborbital space tourism flights, with the first crewed test mission possibly taking place as early as this April, according to CNBC News.

Thursday’s liftoff (see the video at top) from Blue Origin’s launch site in West Texas marked New Shepard’s 14th successful suborbital flight since its first outing in 2015.

As with previous test missions, the rocket carried the crew capsule to the Karman Line — widely considered as the starting point of space — before separating. The capsule continued to gain altitude, reaching 351,215 feet above sea level before returning to Earth in a parachute-assisted landing just over 10 minutes after launch. The rocket also landed safely back on terra firma just over seven minutes after leaving the launchpad.

One of the goals of this week’s mission was to test a new six-seat crew capsule (see the video above) outfitted with a number of upgrades.

These include new interior speakers with a microphone and a push-to-talk button for each seat to allow the crew to speak continuously with Mission Control. A new crew alert system has been fitted, too, with a panel at each seat relaying important safety messages to those traveling on board the capsule.

Environmental systems have also been added, among them a cooling system and humidity controls to regulate temperature and prevent capsule windows from fogging during flight. And for a more comfortable ride, the capsule now has cushioned wall linings and sound-suppression devices to reduce ambient noise.

The flight also continued to prove the robustness and stability of the New Shepard system and the BE-3PM liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine, Blue Origin said.

Soon after Thursday’s mission, the company posted a short video (below) showing a view from the capsule during its flight. Look carefully and you’ll also see Mannequin Skywalker, the company’s test dummy, apparently placed inside to offer some scale to the capsule’s large windows that future space tourists will gaze out of as they marvel at the stunning views.

Stunning views from space today. #NewShepard

— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) January 14, 2021

Blue Origin isn’t the only company looking to offer high-paying folks the trip of a lifetime. Virgin Galactic is also planning a tourism service for suborbital space flights, but its system uses a runway launch with a carrier aircraft instead of a rocket. SpaceX also has plans for space tourism services, though it appears to be targeting more ambitious trips that could even include a visit to the International Space Station.

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Trevor Mogg
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