The 12th launch of a New Shepard rocket booster was a record one for company Blue Origin.
NS-12, which took off from the Jeff Bezos-owned company’s West Texas facility still flew without a human crew, but marked the sixth consecutive mission for this particular booster, five of which were suborbital flights higher than 100 km.
The flight was the ninth commercial payload mission overall for the company flying its 100th customer on board as well as thousands of postcards from students that have participated in the Club for the Future nonprofit that looks to inspire youth into STEM careers and a vision of humanity’s future in space.
The mission had a target of 350,000 feet, but fell short reaching an apogee of 343,061 feet, which is still higher than the 100 km mark known as the Karman line, an internationally accepted threshold for space.
It launched at 11:53 a.m. Central Standard Time for a 10-minute, 16-second mission with both the booster making a successful return landing to its landing pad and the capsule floating down with parachutes to land nearby.
Its maximum speed was 2,227 mph on ascent.
It was the first launch of New Shepard since May. The eventual goal of the company is to get the rocket and capsule up and running for space tourism. The company had originally indicated it wanted to begin tourist flights into space in 2019, but has not begun to sell tickets nor set prices for prospective flyers yet.
When tourist flights do begin, the New Shepard capsule will take up to six humans into suborbital space on an 11-minute flight from launch to landing.
“Featuring windows that comprise 1/3 of the capsule’s surface structure – the largest windows ever in space – you’ll have a view of the curve of the planet and the vast darkness of the cosmos. Every detail of the capsule has been precision-engineered for your safety and comfort,” says the voiceover on a Blue Origin PR video.
The rides, which will launch from the West Texas facility, will allow passengers to unbuckle and experience weightlessness for a few minutes before strapping back into their reclining seats for the trip back to Earth.
With safety in mind, the capsule has an escape motor that is designed to propel the passengers away from the booster rocket, which like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 boosters, will be reusable.
While cost has yet to be set, media reports have suggested it will be close to the $250,000 price tag per passenger that’s been set by competing space tourism company Virgin Galactic.
Virgin Galactic meanwhile, has made two crewed test launches on it VSS Unity spacecraft, sending five humans into what it deems suborbital space, an altitude of more than 50 miles into the atmosphere.
Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin’s space tourism plans will let passengers see the curvature of the Earth on the short flights, and the companies then plan for quick turnaround to launch the next set of paying customers.
Blue Origin is also pursuing a larger rocket, the New Glenn, being built at its facility in Cape Canaveral and launched from the Space Coast.
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