Blue Origin has launched its New Shepard rocket for the second time this year, and the 15th time overall. The mission profile saw the reusable spacecraft fly to suborbital space, and then return for a parachute-assisted landing at Blue Origin’s launch facility in West Texas.
This flight was a little different than its usual missions, because it included a rehearsal component with people standing in for what will eventually be Blue Origin’s paying private astronaut customers. What that means is that they actually went through the process of flight preparations, including transporting to the pad, and even climbing in to the New Shepard vehicle and getting seated as if they were going along for the ride.
The crucial difference between this and an actual passenger flight is that Blue Origin then paused the countdown, and the mock crew disembarked, before the countdown was resumed and the flight proceeded as planned — without any passengers, save for Mannequin Skywalker, the Blue Origin test dummy who flies on these preparation missions to take crucial readings during the launch and return.
New Shepard returned and touched down without any issue, and in fact showed off one of its smoothest landings yet. This was the second launch and landing for this particular booster stage. The capsule also touched down as planned, with a soft landing facilitated by the spacecraft’s parachute descent system.
Next up, Blue Origin is going to do a dry run of what would be the ending stage of the mission for an actual human crew, by bringing out those rehearsal astronauts and putting them back into the capsule, then rehearsing in full the astronaut recovery and departure process that would occur during a live tourist flight.
All of today’s activities showed off what Blue Origin hopes to accomplish sometime this year with people on board. It’s yet another way paying private astronauts can get to space, in a growing roster of options that now includes SpaceX Dragon flights, and hopefully soon, Virgin Galactic launches.