Blue Origin Plans to Launch New Shepard Rocket Next Week, First Mission After 2022 Crash

  • New Shepard Launch Targeted: Blue Origin plans to launch its New Shepard suborbital rocket on Dec. 18, marking its return since a crash setback in September 2022.
  • Payload Details: The upcoming mission includes 33 science and research payloads, along with 38,000 postcards.
  • FAA Approval Pending: Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is yet to approve the launch, addressing outstanding items related to the license modification application.
  • Crash Investigation Closure: FAA closed the probe into the 2022 crash, attributing it to an engine nozzle failure caused by higher-than-expected operating temperatures.
  • Positive Capsule Ejection: Despite the crash, the capsule ejected as intended, indicating crew safety. Blue Origin has taken 21 corrective actions to resume launches.
  • Space Tourism Competition: Blue Origin faces competition from Virgin Galactic in the space tourism sector. While Blue Origin was grounded, Virgin Galactic completed five commercial flights in the current year.
Blue Origin Plans to Launch New Shepard Rocket Next Week, First Mission After 2022 Crash
Blue Origin Plans to Launch New Shepard Rocket Next Week (Image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Blue Origin has announced plans for the upcoming launch of its New Shepard suborbital rocket, marking a significant step forward for the space company after facing setbacks due to an uncrewed crash in September 2022. The launch is scheduled for December 18, with the company aiming to send 33 science and research payloads, along with 38,000 postcards, into space.

However, before the launch can proceed, it requires approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA, in a statement to AFP, mentioned that it is still addressing outstanding issues related to the license modification application. Blue Origin remains optimistic about receiving approval, stating, “we expect to receive approval.”

The setback in September 2022 led to a comprehensive investigation by the FAA, resulting in the closure of the probe. The agency mandated Blue Origin to implement 21 corrective actions before resuming launches. The investigation revealed that an engine nozzle failure, caused by higher-than-expected engine operating temperatures, led to the New Shepard rocket’s descent shortly after liftoff. Fortunately, the capsule carrying research experiments successfully separated and returned safely to Earth.

The FAA noted that the onboard systems detected the anomaly, triggering an intended abort and separation of the capsule from the propulsion module, followed by the engine shutdown. Importantly, the rapid ejection of the capsule during the mishap was seen as a positive indicator, suggesting that any crew onboard would have been safe.

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic Compete in the Space Tourism Industry

Blue Origin has undertaken six crewed flights since July 2021, with passengers including paying customers and guests. The company faces competition in the space tourism sector from Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson. While Blue Origin was temporarily grounded, Virgin Galactic continued its operations, completing five commercial flights in the current year.

Both companies operate in the emerging space tourism industry, providing customers with a few minutes of weightlessness in “suborbital” space. Blue Origin utilizes a small vertically launched rocket, while Virgin Galactic employs a large carrier plane to achieve altitude before releasing a smaller rocket-powered spaceplane for the journey to space.

Ticket prices for Virgin Galactic flights ranged between $200,000 and $450,000, while Blue Origin has not publicly disclosed its ticket prices. The competition between the two companies reflects the growing interest and developments in the field of space tourism.

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