Blue Origin launches New Shepard rocket on return to flight mission

A Blue Origin New Shepard rocket lifts off from the launch site in Van Horn, Texas, on the NS-24 mission. This was the first launch of a New Shepard rocket since the vehicle was grounded in the after math of the NS-23 anomaly. Image: Blue Origin

Updated 3:11 p.m. EST: Added comments and additional mission information from Blue Origin.

Blue Origin appears to be back in the suborbital business. Under a mostly sunny west Texas sky, the company launched its New Shepard suborbital rocket at roughly 10:42 a.m. CST (1642 UTC). This marked the 24th flight of a New Shepard rocket.

The launch was a big deal for Jeff Bezos’ company since it marked the first time in about 15 months that they were able to launch their vehicle. During the Sept. 12, 2022 launch of the NS-23 mission, the engine nozzle suffered a structural failure, forcing the mission to end prematurely.

The previously failed mission wasn’t mentioned at any point either during the launch broadcast or in Blue Origin’s social media posts about the NS-24 mission.

Onboard the capsule that flew on Tuesday were 33 science payloads and 38,000 postcards for Blue Origin’s non-profit, Club for the Future, which encourages young people to take up STEM careers.

During the launch broadcast, Erika Wagner, Blue Origin’s Senior Director of Emerging Market Development, said that this was the ninth flight of the booster. These booster are designed to fly up to 25 missions.

“I think one of the most important things that’s been happening in this new era of modern rocketry is that we’ve learned how to launch, land and repeat,” Wagner said. “We’ve been able to take these boosters and to fly them over and over again.”

The New Shepard booster landing less than 7.5 minutes after liftoff on the NS-24 mission. Image: Blue Origin

The booster separated from the capsule around two minutes and 40 seconds into flight, at which point, the capsule began to experience microgravity for a few minutes. The capsule reached an apogee of 107 km MSL.

Wagner noted that several of the experiments that were flying as payloads involved elements of fluid mechanics.

One of the payloads that was highlighted was a prototype of the EagleCam CubeSat. The primary version of the spacecraft, created by faculty and students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, will be hosted onboard Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lunar lander, which is set to launch to the Moon no earlier than Jan. 12.

“A special thank you to all of our customers who flew important science today and the students who contributed postcards to advance our future of living and working in space for the benefit of Earth,” said Phil Joyce, Senior Vice President for the New Shepard program in a statement. “Demand for New Shepard flights continues to grow and we’re looking forward to increasing our flight cadence in 2024.” 

Less than 7.5 minutes into flight, the booster touched down the desert. That was followed by capsule touchdown just over 10 minutes into the mission. The total mission timeline was 10 minutes and 13 seconds.

The capsule from the NS-24 mission landing the West Texas desert more than 10 minutes after the mission began. Image: Blue Origin

What comes next?

Blue Origin didn’t mention future flights of New Shepard with specificity but Wagner’s did say near the end of the coverage: “Following a thorough review of today’s mission, we look forward to flying our next crewed flight soon.”

She didn’t state if there would be another uncrewed mission before the company starts flying paying customers again.

In the meantime, Blue Origin is also gearing up for its first launch of its orbital class rocket, New Glenn, which will liftoff from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

No specific launch date has been announced, but the company stated recently that they expect it to make its debut in 2024 after years of delays.