Blue Origin Successfully Launches New Shepard Rocket After 2022 Setback

Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket and capsule stand atop its West Texas launch pad ahead of the NS-24 uncrewed suborbital launch scheduled for Dec. 18, 2023. (Image credit: Blue Origin)
New Shepard rocket and capsule stand atop its West Texas launch pad ahead of the NS-24 uncrewed suborbital launch scheduled for Dec. 18, 2023. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin, the American aerospace company founded by Jeff Bezos, marked a significant comeback as it successfully launched its first rocket in over a year on Tuesday. The mission, designated NS-24, was a crucial step in resuming Blue Origin’s space tourism operations, which had been halted following an uncrewed crash in 2022.

Successful Liftoff: Blue Origin’s New Shepard Rockets to the Sky Again

Taking off from Launch Site One near Van Horn, Texas, the New Shepard suborbital rocket lifted off at 10:43 am local time. Although the payload for NS-24 comprised science experiments rather than human passengers, the successful mission sets the stage for Blue Origin to once again carry wealthy thrill-seekers on suborbital journeys to the edge of space.

Shephard rocket takes off in Texas in March 2022.
Shephard rocket takes off in Texas in March 2022.

The gumdrop-shaped capsule, carrying various scientific experiments, reached a peak altitude of 66.5 miles (107 kilometers) above sea level. This altitude surpassed the internationally recognized boundary of space, known as the Karman line, which is set at 62 miles high. Following separation from the booster, the capsule descended gracefully to the desert floor with the aid of three giant parachutes, while the booster executed a flawless vertical landing on the launchpad against the scenic backdrop of the Sierra Diablo mountains.

Among the experiments conducted onboard NS-24 were demonstrations of hydrogen fuel cell technology in microgravity and observations of water and gas movements in a weightless environment. The potential applications of these experiments include advancements in monitoring water quality for astronauts in space.

Blue Origin’s return to space follows a prolonged hiatus caused by a significant incident on September 12, 2022. During that incident, a Blue Origin rocket encountered a mid-air failure, leading to an emergency separation of the capsule, which descended safely to the ground. A subsequent yearlong investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed that the failure was attributed to an engine nozzle experiencing higher-than-expected temperatures. Blue Origin had to implement corrective actions, including the redesign of certain engine parts, before receiving approval from the FAA to resume flights.

Notably, Blue Origin faces competition in the space tourism sector from Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson. While Blue Origin was grounded, Virgin Galactic continued its operations, completing five commercial flights in the same year. Both companies focus on suborbital space tourism, providing passengers with a few minutes of weightlessness and panoramic views of Earth.

NS-24 uncrewed mission lifts off on Dec. 19, 2023. (Image credit:

Blue Origin distinguishes itself with its commitment to sustainability, utilizing a vertically launched, reusable rocket. The New Shepard rocket platform boasts reusability of its booster, capsule, engine, landing gear, and parachutes. Moreover, the rocket’s engine is powered by liquid oxygen and hydrogen, resulting in only water vapor emissions during flight, with no carbon emissions.

Looking ahead, Blue Origin is not only focused on suborbital tourism but is also actively developing a heavy rocket named New Glenn for commercial purposes. The maiden flight for New Glenn is scheduled for the coming year, with the rocket designed to carry payloads of up to 45 metric tons into low Earth orbit, further expanding Blue Origin’s footprint in the aerospace industry.

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