Blue Origin New Shepard Fact Sheet

Blue Origin’s New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket. (Credits: Blue Origin)

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin released a fact sheet about its programs when it opened its new Huntsville manufacturing facility on Monday. Below is an excerpt on the New Shepard suborbital program.


New Shepard

Named after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space, New Shepard is Blue Origin’s fully reusable suborbital launch vehicle designed to take astronauts and research payloads past the Kármán line (100km), the internationally recognized boundary of space, then return them safely to Earth.

New Shepard has been designed from the beginning to be operationally reusable, meaning it requires minimal refurbishment between flights. Operational reuse is the key to a radical reduction in the cost of access to space, which is a gate to achieving Blue’s longer-term vision of millions of people living and working in space to benefit Earth.

All the learnings from the New Shepard program are being applied to Blue’s orbital launch vehicle New Glenn as well as the Blue Moon lunar lander. Both these vehicles are leveraging New Shepard’s autonomy, guidance, vertical landing architecture, powerful and throttleable liquid engines, and lean operations.

Fast Facts

  • Launches: New Shepard is currently launching from Blue’s West Texas launch site in Van Horn, Texas. The launch vehicle has completed 12 successful consecutive launches, 11 consecutive successful booster landings, 3 successful escape tests (from the pad, mid-flight at Max Q and in the vacuum of space – proving astronauts will be safe in any phase of flight), and 13 consecutive successful crew capsule landings (including a pad escape). One of the New Shepard boosters has flown five times consecutively, and the other has flown six times consecutively – both with minimal refurbishment between flights.
  • Build: The system is a fully reusable, vertical takeoff vertical landing (VTVL) space vehicle – the only of its kind. New Shepard has been designed from the beginning to be operationally reusable, meaning it requires minimal refurbishment between flights. It has also been designed from the beginning for human flight.
  • Latest Mission: The most recent mission on December 11, 2019 was a complete success. It was the 6th consecutive successful launch and landing for the vehicle (a record), further verified the system towards human flight, and flew thousands of postcards to space for Blue Origin’s nonprofit Club for the Future.

Flight Profile

  • The New Shepard launch vehicle is designed to take both people and payloads on an 11-minute journey to space, past the Kármán line (100km) – before returning safely back to Earth.
  • The launch vehicle takes off vertically, then the capsule separates near space at about 250,000 feet (76 kilometers) and continues on to space to reach an apogee of 350,000 feet (106 kilometers).
  • The launch vehicle is completely autonomous: every person onboard is a passenger – there are no pilots.
  • After separation from the capsule, the booster autonomously makes its way back down to Earth for a pinpoint landing on the landing pad – about two miles away from where the vehicle lifted off.
  • Meanwhile, the capsule gives astronauts or payloads on board over three minutes of weightlessness gazing out the largest windows to have ever flown in space.
  • The capsule then enters a stable free fall back to Earth, then three drogue chutes are deployed before three main chutes. This occurs at several thousand feet to slow down the vehicle for landing.
  • Right before touching down, a retro thrust system expels a cloud of air beneath the capsule to create a gentle landing around 1 mph in the West Texas desert.

Payloads Program

  • On the way to demonstrating the system is ready for human spaceflight, New Shepard has launched several successful missions with commercial payloads on board from around the globe.
  • New Shepard’s flight profile makes it an ideal platform for microgravity physics, gravitational biology, tech demos, art projects and educational programs. Earth, atmospheric and space science research are all possible on New Shepard.
  • A core partner on these flights is NASA Flight Opportunities program, who funds payloads from universities and research institutions to fly on New Shepard.
  • These experiments advance science, technology, education and art.

Human Flight

  • To prepare for human flights, Blue has been rigorously testing all the safety systems of the vehicle throughout the flight test program. For example, the escape system on board has been successfully tested three times (from the pad, mid-flight at Max Q and in the vacuum of space) – proving astronauts will be safe in any phase of flight.
  • Blue will fly astronauts as soon as it’s safe and is targeting 2020.
  • There are several verification test flights before flying astronauts.