Blue Origin ‘getting close’ to human spaceflight with 14th test flight

Astronaut life support systems, communication on New Shepard suborbital flight

Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket and capsule launch from the company's west Texas launch site on Jan. 14, 2021 marking the 14th suborbital flight for the company. (Image: Blue Origin) (WKMG 2020)

Blue Origin says it’s nearing its first human spaceflight with the company’s upcoming test flight from West Texas on Thursday.

Jeff Bezos’ private spaceflight company launched its reusable suborbital rocket, the New Shepard, and its capsule at 12:17p.m. ET from the launch site in Texas.

The rocket launched to the edge of space, around 62 miles up, and returned, landing less than 8 minutes after liftoff. The capsule also returned to Earth via parachute about 10 minutes post launch.

The countdown entered a hold at T-minus 12 minutes due to mid-level winds but the clock started up again around noon.

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This marks the 14th launch and landing for New Shepard. Both the booster and capsule were new and had not previously flown.

Blue Origin has been preparing to launch paying customers inside the capsule for years. This latest test included some elements those commercial astronauts would need, including temperature regulation inside the capsule, display panels and a communication system.

“We’re getting really close to flying humans, we’re getting there,” Blue Origin director of astronaut and orbital sales Ariane Cornwell said after the launch.

While no humans were onboard the capsule, the company’s test dummy, Mannequin Skywalker will be in one of the six astronaut seats. He was carrying some of the 50,000 postcards submitted by students from around the world as part of Blue Origin’s Club for the Future nonprofit. After the postcards are retrieved they will receive an official stamp of spaceflight and be sent back to the students.

Blue Origin is also developing a much larger heavy lift rocket called New Glenn that will launch from Cape Canaveral. The company’s sprawling rocket factory outside the Kennedy Space Center gates continues to grow.

According to Blue Origin’s website, New Glenn is slated to launch sometime this year.

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