Blue Origin is set to launch one of its New Shepard rockets as early as tomorrow, January 14 at 9:45 AM CST (10:45 AM EST) for its first mission of 2021. This is a big one for the Jeff Bezos-founded space company, too — it includes upgrades to the crew capsule atop the rocket that are designed to improve the astronaut experience, a key preparatory step as the company approaches its first actual human spaceflight missions.
New Shepard has flown 13 times, and carried a number of different payloads to suborbital space before returning to Earth. The reusable launch vehicle aims to ultimately provide rides to space for people, too — and while there’s no stated timeline for this actually happening, tomorrow’s mission is a strong sign that it could be taking place sometime relatively soon.
Crew-focused upgrades flying on this New Shepard launch for the first time include acoustic and temperature regulation equipment, display panels that provide information to anyone who would be on board and push-to-talk communications systems installed in each of the crew capsule’s six seats. One of those seats will have a life-sized humanoid flight dummy named Mannequin Skywalker that Blue Origin uses to measure various aspects of the vehicle’s performance.
It’ll test astronaut safety alert systems that Blue Origin intends to include on the final flight system, and it’ll also carry a payload with a very different purpose — 50,000 postcards provided to the Blue Origin nonprofit Club for the Future by school kids around the world.
The mission will be broadcast live by Blue Origin via its website and YouTube channel (embedded below) and you can expect the stream to begin around 30 minutes prior to launch time, so at around 10:15 AM EST (7:15 AM PST).