Blue Origin's New Shepard Soars Again After 15-Month Hiatus

Blue Origin's New Shepard suborbital vehicle successfully lifted off today at 11:42 a.m. Eastern from Launch Site One in West Texas. This marked the first mission since a mishap more than 15 months ago, demonstrating the company's commitment to overcoming challenges and resuming operations.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Published: 20th Dec 2023 00:07 GMT
Written by: Zac Aubert

Blue Origin's New Shepard suborbital vehicle successfully lifted off today at 11:42 a.m. Eastern from Launch Site One in West Texas. WATCH LAUNCH

This marked the first mission since a mishap more than 15 months ago, demonstrating the company's commitment to overcoming challenges and resuming operations.

The capsule, designated NS-24, landed under parachutes approximately 10 minutes and 13 seconds after liftoff, having reached a peak altitude of 107 kilometers.  WATCH LANDING

In a precision display of technology, the propulsion module landed vertically using its engine nearly three minutes earlier. WATCH LANDING

Originally scheduled for December 18, the mission faced a brief delay due to a ground system problem and was further postponed earlier in the morning due to cold weather conditions.

The NS-24 mission carried a total of 33 payloads, with many provided through NASA's Flight Opportunities program, facilitating experiments and technology demonstrations on suborbital vehicles. Additionally, 38,000 postcards from the Club for the Future, an educational nonprofit affiliated with Blue Origin, were part of the payload. Importantly, this mission did not carry any human passengers.

The significance of this launch lies in its role as the comeback for New Shepard after a September 2022 mishap. In that incident, an engine problem triggered the launch abort motor in the capsule, leading to the destruction of the propulsion module. WATCH FAILURE

An investigation led by Blue Origin identified a structural failure in the BE-3PM engine nozzle caused by thermal damage, linked to the engine running hotter than expected.

Although Blue Origin stated its intent to resume flights "soon" after completing the investigation in March, it took an additional six months for the Federal Aviation Administration to formally close the investigation and identify 21 corrective actions.

The company indicated that it would restart with a reflight of the NS-23 payloads, many of which were also present on the NS-24 mission.

During the webcast of the launch, Blue Origin did not address the previous mishap or the efforts invested in returning New Shepard to flight. Instead, the focus remained on the success of the current mission. Notably, the propulsion module used for NS-24 completed its ninth flight, underscoring Blue Origin's commitment to reusability.

While there was speculation about the future of New Shepard, with suggestions that Blue Origin might shift focus to other projects such as the New Glenn orbital launch vehicle and the Blue Moon lunar lander, company representatives dispelled such notions.

“Demand for our flights only continues to grow. We’re scaling the fleet, refining our repeatable processes to meet that growing demand.” - Erika Wagner

Despite the challenges and setbacks, Blue Origin is moving forward with its commitment to New Shepard. 

"Following a thorough review of today’s mission, we look forward to flying our next crewed flight soon."- Erika Wagner

As Blue Origin charts its course into the future, today's successful launch serves as a testament to the resilience and determination of the aerospace industry.

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