Blue Origin's new Shepard rocket is set to complete its tenth test flight on Tuesday – marks another step towards launching paying customers to suborbital space. With a launch window at the Blue Origins test site in West Texas, which opens at 2.30pm UTC, New Shepard will also be the third test flight to carry a variety of NASA experiments together for the trip.
New Shepard is the first of a potential line of vehicles for Blue Origin. The rack and crew system is aimed at the suborbital tourism market, enabling paying customers to enjoy a few minutes of zero-G flight before a parachute's landing.
Jeff Bezos companies will charge between $ 200,000 and $ 300,000 per ticket for the short suborbital flight – per unconfirmed media reports in recent years – to find themselves in a mini-space race with Virgin Galactics SpaceShipTwo that even reached another milestone a few days earlier.
– Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) December 14, 2018
VSS Unity successfully reached the edge of space for a few minutes, both of its pilots FAA serve commercial astronaut wings.
However, there is a big contrast between New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, beyond just the obvious.
While Virgin Galactic passengers will enjoy a smooth ride inside the spacecraft under the airline's WhiteKnightTwo aircraft before being released for a short but powerful ascension, new Shepard passengers will be lifted upwards from the launcher plate through the more conventional rocket launch.
The landings are also very different, with SS2 sliding back to earth, while New Shepard will return as a regular capsule, using gutters for a soft touchdown on land.
While Virgin Galactic's ambition to launch customers has been delayed for many years – including a catastrophic test flight that resulted in a test pilot's death in 2014 – the New Sheppard Test Campaign began only in 2015.
Despite the loss of the first booster, the second flight in November 2015 started a successful run of test flights.
The second flight saw the New Shepard Booster who raised its Crew Capsule to a height of 329,839 feet before returning under controlled control to an upright landing – which for the first time marked a suborbital rocket landed successfully after a straight-up / straight-down flights.
At the seventh test, the campaign presented a new next-generation booster – powered by its BE-3 engine – and the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0, a spacecraft that featured real-time 2.4 x 3.6-foot windows.
The test flight also transported 12 payloads and even a passenger – especially an instrumented dummy with the brilliant name "Mannequin Skywalker".
Eighth flight saw the capsule up to 351,000 feet – making this a record space for the spacecraft. For test nine earlier this year, the height was 389,846 feet – the highest so far. It also conducted another safety interruption system test.
These latest tests were designed to drive boosters to its limit, which led to Blue Origin noting the potential of losing boosters, especially during the targeted flight test, centered on a solid engine burn for two seconds to escape the capsule from an incorrect booster.
All tests – from test 2 to test 9 – have seen the booster return for a safe landing, followed shortly by the capsule parachute flight to a landing site nearby.
For the latest test, many new cargo charges flee in New Shepard during the flight, ranging from commercial to NASA customers. This will include the third flight of Suborbital Flight Experiment Monitor-2 (SFEM-2). The experiment records vehicle conditions, including cabin pressure, temperature, CO2, acoustic conditions and acceleration.
"The ability to recover our payload helps us not only validate and compare data for different air profiles, but also try modifications and upgrades," said Kathryn Hurlbert, SFEM-2 main researcher at Johnson. "In the very challenging task of flying things in space, it has been said – and I continue to believe – that" you are done with testing when you can not think of anything else to test. ""
Other NASA technology payloads that fly on this test are focused on the nine technologies from government, academia and industry. Campaign manager Ryan Dibley of NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California added: "NASA is proud to have established airline suppliers and partners supporting new technology development with broad applications."
While synergy is less obvious, Blue Origin and Virgin (Orbit) also have competition beyond suborbital space. Virgin Orbit is now in captive carry tests of its LauncherOne rocket, which will be worn by a modified 747 called Cosmic Girl.
In contrast to the suborbital space tour company, Blue Origin will not be a direct competitor of Virgin Orbit. Bezos' companies have their views on the heavier part of the payload scale, which takes into account SpaceX, ULA and other major corporate solution providers.
This will begin with the virgin launch of New Glenn, which is expected to happen in 2020.
With the production facility at Exploration Park, but ready to start producing New Glenn hardware, work is on its way up the LC-11 and LC-36 plate, where the rocket will be tested and launched.
The LC-11 will be used to test brand New Glenn engines, while the LC-36 will be the launch site for the orbital chain.
Blue Origin's new Glenn rocket, like its younger sister, New Shepard, will contain a booster that will return to reuse. The landing ship is already undergoing conversion of arrivals in Florida to be ready to "catch" recurring New Glenn boosters.
Blue Origin is also expected to add an even bigger rocket to its family, Super Heavy Vehicle, called New Armstrong. However, it is not expected until the 2020s.