ORLANDO, Fla. - Blue Origin launched its New Shepard rocket Wednesday in Texas with NASA-selected experiments on board, including one from the University of Central Florida.
According to Blue Origin, New Shepard's 10th mission was delayed from Dec. 18, due to a ground infrastructure issue, but the company's next attempt from its West Texas launch site went off without a hitch.
The rocket blasted off with nine NASA-sponsored payloads a little before 10 a.m. Wednesday. The space capsule reached apogee at 66 miles high before returning to Earth and landing. The booster also returned touching back down in West Texas. The successful launch and return marked the fourth trip for that New Shepard booster.
Amazon founder and Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos said Wednesday's launch was another step toward human spaceflight for the company.
"Step by step, we’re getting close to human flight," Bezos said in a social media post. "And all of this learning is being incorporated into New Glenn too."
The company launched payloads that are part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. Two of those experiments are from Florida universities. UCF’s Collisions Into Dust Experiment, or COLLIDE, is a microgravity test examining how particles react in space. The University of Florida’s experiment will test a biological fluorescent imaging device developed for the International Space Station. The principal investigators want to adapt the instrument for experiments lower than the edge of space, known as the suborbital zone.
In December, UCF and UF groups sent experiments up on the first successful spaceflight for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. The space plane, operated by two pilots, reached the edge of space 50 miles above Earth.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin both plan to launch the first space tourists in the near future. Paying customers have already reserved seats on SpaceShipTwo and interested people are able to sign up on Blue Origin's website to start accessing pricing information and tickets when the company opens reservations.
The Washington state-based company plans to start lifting off from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 36 with its New Glenn rocket, which is still under development, no earlier than 2021.
The rocket will be assembled at Blue Origin's mammoth rocket factory in Exploration Park just outside Kennedy Space Center's gates. There are also plans for a rocket testing and refurbishment center next to the factory, according to Florida's spaceport authority, Space Florida.
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