Blue Origin sent up its New Shepard rocket again, except this one didn’t have a billionaire on board.
The uncrewed flight from the company’s West Texas launch facility is instead dedicated to flying science and research payloads to space and back including NASA lunar landing technology for a second time on the exterior of the booster.
The rocket lifted off just after 10:30 a.m. EDT.
The NASA technology attached includes the Navigation Doppler Lidar and Descent Landing Computer, which “would work together to determine a spacecraft’s location and speed as it approaches the surface of the moon,” according to a press released from Blue Origin. “The technologies could allow future missions — both crewed and robotic — to target landing sites that weren’t possible during the Apollo missions, such as regions with varied terrain near craters.”
Among other experiments is a reflight of a payload from Kennedy Space Center called the Orbital Syngas / Commodity Augmentation Reactor, or OSCAR, which looks to “reuse and repurpose common spaceflight waste products by using heat and an oxygen supply stage to transform the trash into useful resources, such as water and propellant.”
The mission once again passed 100 km, which is known as the Karman line, the altitude that is internationally recognized as having made it into space.
The 4th flight this year of the New Shepard rocket comes after the July launch that sent Jeff Bezos and others in space, the first time humans used the rocket.
This flight marks the eighth trip to space for this specific rocket, but the 17th New Shepard flight overall. To date, the company has flown more than 100 science payloads for NASA and other research institutions.
The rocket also features an art installation on the top of the crew capsule’s main chute covers by artist Amoako Boafo of Ghana.
It’s the first of three in a series of portraits titled “Suborbital Truptych” showing the artist, his mother and a the mother of a friend, part of Uplift Aerospace’s Uplift Art Program, which aims “to inspire new ideas and generate dialog by making space accessible and connected to the human experience,” according to the release.
The company founded by Bezos looks to begin tourist flights soon after his successful trip last month. Flights send its passengers into suborbital space on about an 11-minute flight from launch to landing. The rides 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, competing space tourism company Virgin Galactic, which also sent its own billionaire and founder Richard Branson into space last month, is now charging $450,000 per passenger for future flights.
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 will be launched from the Space Coast.
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