Blue Origin has successful launched its suborbital New Shepard rocket for a 15th time, as it edges closer to launching humans on short hops into space.
Today’s flight, NS-15, saw the company’s booster and capsule lift off from their Launch Site One in West Texas at 12:51 P.M. Eastern Time, their second launch of 2021.
Like the 14 previous New Shepard launches from Blue Origin, founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the rocket rose to a height of about 106 kilometers, just beyond the official definition of space of 100 kilometers, before returning to Earth.
It carried a capsule, which will one day itself carry six humans on short paid space tourism flights at a rumored $200,000 or more per ticket but was uncrewed for this flight, which separated from the rocket in space and returned to Earth via parachute.
The rocket itself, meanwhile, landed back on the ground with a powered descent, ready for another launch – with this being the second for this particular booster.
You can rewatch the launch below.
MORE FOR YOU
While the whole flight lasting about ten minutes mimicked previous New Shepard launches, it had a notable difference at the start and end.
This time, the launch was a “dress rehearsal for our astronaut experience,” said launch commentator Patrick Zeitouni, from Blue Origin’s Advanced Development Program.
Blue Origin personnel climbed the launch tower and entered the capsule prior to launch, simulating a future human mission.
They sat in their seats, buckled harnesses, and spoke to mission control, before the hatch was “closed”. They then left the capsule prior to launch.
After the capsule returned to Earth, a recovery team practiced opening the capsule, to prepare for getting future astronauts out of the capsule after a return to Earth.
The goal was to demonstrate how the logistics of future Blue Origin crew launches might work.
“Everything was rehearsed under actual conditions,” said launch commentator Ariane Cornell, from Astronaut and Orbital Sales at Blue Origin.
But while there were no humans on board, there was a “dummy” in one of the seats, called Mannequin Skywalker, which has flown multiple times before.
In a statement, Blue Origin said the NS-15 mission was “a verification step for the vehicle and operations prior to flying astronauts.”
While it remains unclear when those crewed launches might begin, today’s demonstration was the closest indicator yet that they are on the horizon.
Without giving much away, Blue Origin simply tweeted that they planned to fly customers “soon”.