Blue Origin’s New Shepard Makes Successful Flight

Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle reached its highest altitude yet on Wednesday with a successful flight that saw the capsule reach 74 miles above the West Texas desert.

The new altitude record of 389,846 feet (73.8 miles/118.8 km) came courtesy of a high-altitude test of the capsule’s abort system, which activated after the booster stage had stopped firing. The capsule on the previous flight reached 351,000 feet (66.5 miles/107 km).

The rocket booster, making its third flight to space, touched down safely on a landing pad located two miles from where it launched. The capsule later made a soft landing nearby after a flight that lasted 11 minutes 17 seconds.

An instrumented flight dummy dubbed Mannequin Skywalker experienced 10 Gs during the abort test, according to commentary on Blue Origin’s webcast. The capsule also contained a number of experiments.

It was the ninth flight of the New Shepard system. Blue Origin plans to begin flying test passengers later this year and selling tickets to the public in 2019.

  • Hemingway

    Wow – this was fantastic. It is a real spacecraft as opposed to that of Virgin Galactic.

  • ThomasLMatula

    I noticed the capsule didn’t appear to tumble like last to time. That is a huge improvement.

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    Yeah! She kept mentioning thrusters. Not sure if it was just a control law change or if they upgraded the actual thrusters. But either way, it did great.

  • gunsandrockets

    Note the booster venting at the 48:08 mark. I wonder, exactly how much propellant is remaining in the tanks at touchdown?

    Since Blue Origin is cagey with New Shepard specifications, I like to speculate about their true values. The upper and lower values of the BE-3 thrust provide some boundaries (maximum liftoff mass of New Shepard is 40t and minimum touchdown mass of the New Shepard booster is 10t), but what is the dry mass of New Shepard booster? What is the actual propellant load?

    Eyeballing the New Shepard booster, it looks like the maximum tank diameter is about 10 feet and length about 60 feet. So I’m guessing a maximum propellant load of 30t.

    The New Shepard capsule seems more definitive, about 12 feet in diameter and 7,000 pounds.

    So my final guess is: capsule mass = 3t, booster dry mass = 9t, propellant mass = 28t.

  • gunsandrockets

    Blue Origin developing a deep throttling liquid hydrogen rocket for a suborbital reusable lander still seems like a very odd choice to me. Why not use methane instead? Why not RP-1?

    I keep wondering if Blue Origin has always had ambitions of eventually using BE-3 for a massive lunar lander, that could land perhaps 50 tons of cargo on the moon!

  • gunsandrockets

    If you substituted an expendable 3,000 kg upper stage in place of the capsule on the New Shepard rocket, how much payload could reach LEO? 500-750 kg?

  • delphinus100

    I think they’re more interested in this technology *becoming* the upper / departure / planetary surface lander stage of something bigger…

  • Robert G. Oler

    Impressive…

  • Robert G. Oler

    Something just dawned on me…I dont think that BEzos and BO care if they lose money on the passenger sub orbital flights…

  • Jeff2Space

    Because they needed the BE-3 primarily as an upper stage engine. In the long run they can use it for a lunar landing engine as well. Also, since the BE-3 is a combustion tap-off cycle engine, it shouldn’t be too hard to adapt the BE-3 to burn methane instead of hydrogen, if need be.

  • gunsandrockets

    In the long run it doesn’t make sense to develop your first little suborbital hopper around a lunar landing engine — unless that ‘long run’ is happening a lot sooner than most people assume!

  • Jeff2Space

    The Blue Origin engineers seem to be very conservative. As such, they take a very long time and a lot of money to develop new engines. Going with that philosophy, developing as few engines as possible minimizes development costs and (long term) schedules.

  • gunsandrockets

    That’s the thing, a reusable high-thrust hyrolox lander engine is not conservative, it is very ambitious.

  • Jeff2Space

    They seem to have done a good job with the BE-3 engine. It’s been working quite well on New Shepard, especially when landing. It must have quite a throttle range considering it allows New Shepard to hover upon landing.

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    Good BOE calcs. FWIW during the in-flight escape test male narrator said the capsule was 8000 lbs.

  • gunsandrockets

    I’ve seen one older article in which BO claimed a minimum thrust of 20,000 pounds.

  • gunsandrockets

    8,000 lbs? Hmm. I wonder if that is before, or after, the escape system burn? Does 1,000 lbs sound about right for the abort rocket propellant?

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    Hmm. That’s a tough one. But 1000 lbs doesn’t immediately sound unreasonable.