Blue Origin Looking To Resume New Shepard Flights

9th Jun 2023
Blue Origin Looking To Resume New Shepard Flights

Aerospace rocket development and launch service provider Blue Origin has announced the resumption of New Shepard space flights within the next few weeks after a long hiatus. The suborbital vehicles will take-off after being grounded due to an in-flight anomaly that occurred 9-months prior. Chief Executive Bob Smith said the New Shepard line is on the precipice of making its long awaited comeback, and is pending approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

What Went Wrong With The New Shepard Spacecraft?

New Shepard was grounded after a launch failure in September 2022. The spacecraft had completed a number of successful launches, and this time was performing a payload-only flight designated NS-23. However, during NS-23, the safety parachute landing mechanism fired and the propulsion system was destroyed. Consequently, the space plane was grounded until the review was completed and the anomaly repaired. Reviewers determined that a structural failure in the BE-3PM engine nozzle occurred due to unexpected temperatures surpassing the vehicle’s design.

When Will New Shepard Flights Resume?

The New Shepard space plane did make many successful launches previously but an engine failure led to the subsequent grounding. Credit: Blue Origin.

There is no definite date set for the return of the suborbital spacecraft; only the assurance that it will resume soon. The idea is to schedule a revised reflight of the NS-23 mission. However, there are no exact plans formulated. According to the FAA, the space plane will not blast-off until they can review Blue Origin’s plans. Nevertheless, demand for New Shepard’s commercial flights has not dipped, with new customers signing up while the reusable vehicle completes its recovery. 

Additionally, the financial aspect of the space plane has shown good margins, but Bob Smith did highlight that profitability and investment is tense. Blue Origin has never shied away from the fact that its founder, billionaire, Jeff Bezos, continues to invest in the company. Bezos made a US$1 billion investment during the company’s inaugural year – over several years ago.  

Advancements With Blue Origin

In other news for Blue Origin, they recently won a US$3.4 billion contract to create a human lander for NASA’s Artemis mission. Additionally, their New Glenn suborbital space plane is making ground after the company said the flight hardware is coming together, but a launch date is still yet to be set. New Glenn was expected to fly in 2020, but delays have meant the spacecraft is yet to take flight. Blue Origin is currently preparing the launch pad at Cape Canaveral and New Glenn’s passenger manifest is full – despite delays. This includes 12 launches for Amazon’s Project Kuiper broadband constellation, with 15 more launches on the table. 

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