Blue Origin, the rocket company created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, appears to be planning its first sub-orbital flight of 2020. Space Explored has learned that Blue Origin is planning to attempt the 13th launch of its New Shepard vehicle in September.
Update: Space Explored has learned that Blue Origin is targeting Wednesday, September 23, for this launch. The suborbital flight test will also include NASA technology to enable precision landing without a pilot, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine revealed on Friday, September 18. This autonomous landing tech is intended for use for a lunar landing system. Original story from August 10, 2020 below.]
New Shepard is a “reusable suborbital rocket system designed to take astronauts and research payloads” beyond the border of Earth’s atmosphere and into space. Blue Origin has completed 12 successful flights and 11 successful landings across three versions of its New Shepard vehicle since 2015.
Blue Origin last launched New Shepard in December 2019 with educational and NASA-sponsored research payloads. The successful launch and landing was the sixth mission to use the same New Shepard 3 rocket. Hardware reusability is a challenging goal being met by the likes of Blue Origin (and on a larger scale, SpaceX) in the interest of reducing total spaceflight cost.
The upcoming NS-13 mission will mark Blue Origin’s 10th commercial flight using New Shepard. The company celebrated its 100th payload customer to date during New Shepard’s previous mission.
Each New Shepard flight also has another lofty goal: verifying the spacecraft for human spaceflight. In the future, Blue Origin hopes to send paying customers to space for 11 minutes of sub-orbital spaceflight.
NASA is formalizing plans to consider agency personnel as future clients for these spaceflights. Scientists could conduct experiments in space that may not require long-duration missions to the International Space Station.
Blue Origin is also the prime contractor for The National Team (alongside Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper). The group submitted one of three proposals currently being funded by NASA to develop a modern human landing system for upcoming astronaut missions to the Moon under the Artemis Program. The National Team was awarded $579 million out of $967 million in April; Dynetics ($253 million) and SpaceX ($135 million) split the remaining prize money.
Blue Origin hasn’t officially announced the date or other details for its next New Shepard sub-orbital spaceflight. Space Explored expects the launch to occur in September. We’ll update with additional details as they become available.