Not all of the technology or money in the world can make the West Texas fog lift, but a day late and under comparatively clear skies, Jeff Bezos’ private space transportation company Blue Origin on Wednesday launched an uncrewed New Shepard capsule into suborbital space.
“We have to have flight visual on the airplanes that are around here when we’re launching this rocket. It’s actually quite a busy flight corridor in the southwest United States, that goes east-west,” said Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of astronaut and orbital sales. “Out of an abundance of caution we want(ed) to take a little bit of time.”
The launch from Blue Origin’s Van Horn, Texas facility marked the end of a seven-month launch hiatus, wherein Blue Origin’s commercial competitors such as SpaceX, Rocket Lab, the United Launch Alliance, and others have all been visibly busy with launches, engine tests, prototype unveilings and raising cash.
Earlier this year, the company had claimed that the New Shepard programme, which is billed as being a fully reusable vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing (VTVL) system, would launch humans into space before the end of 2019. This year’s two other New Shepard test launches were in January and May.
“Today’s flight represents yet another step in verifying New Shepard, the system in total, for human spaceflight. Now, we’ve got a couple more flights before we get there, but are going to take our time,” Cornell said. She later added, “I’d go today.”
For the spacecraft and rocket used in Wednesday’s launch, it was their sixth trip up and back from space, a new record for Blue Origin booster rockets. Company representatives claimed the New Shepard team has completed the development of VTVL system.
Bezos’ ambitions for Blue Origin include providing crewed and payload space transportation services through a variety of reusable spacecraft and rockets including the New Shepard system. His long-term goal is to take people and cargo, for NASA and others, at least as far as the moon, if not beyond.
NASA in November added Blue Origin to its exclusive pool of approved Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) vendors, allowing the company to bid for contracts to carry cargo to the moon.
Wednesday’s launch was the New Shepard program’s twelfth. On board was a collection of science experiments from NASA, universities, and companies and publicity gags, all stowed away inside black lockers that could be easily seen through the huge capsule windows.
The ride up to and beyond the Karman line – the internationally recognized altitudinal boundary where space begins – and then back to earth took a total of 10 minutes and 16 seconds.