A New Shepard missile takes off on a test flight.
Jeff Bezos’ private space company Blue Origin launched and landed the fifteenth test flight of its New Shepard rocket booster and capsule on Wednesday.
The mission had no passengers on board, although the capsule on top of the rocket is said to carry up to six people for future flights. Known as the NS-15, the mission launched from Blue Origin’s private facility in West Texas and marks a “verification step” for the missile and capsule before humans can fly, the company said.
New Shepard is designed to take people off the edge of space on a journey, with the capsules reaching altitudes of more than 100 kilometers on previous test flights. The capsule spends up to 10 minutes in weightlessness before returning to Earth. The massive windows offer passengers a view.
The mission reached 348,753 feet in elevation on Wednesday, Blue Origin said – or about 106 kilometers above the internationally recognized limit of outer space.
NS-15 is expected to be the second of two “stable configuration” test flights, CNBC reported in January after a new rocket booster and improved capsule were unveiled on the NS-14 mission. While Blue Origin has only said the first crewed flights will be “soon,” sources told CNBC in January that the company’s leadership hopes to launch its first crew on the NS-16 mission.
The company confirmed reporting from CNBC that NS-15 would include a crew loading and unloading test. Blue Origin called this an “astronaut operational drill,” an important step in preparing for passengers to take off.
“For primary operations, Blue Origin personnel will enter the capsule as astronauts prior to launch. These astronauts will climb the launch tower, sit in their seats, buckle their seat belts, and from their seat perform a communication check using the CAPCOM Capsule Communicator. The tower operations team prepares the capsule cabin for launch and then briefly closes the capsule hatch. The astronauts then exit the capsule before launch, “the company said in a blog post.
Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, opens the capsule of the new Shepard Rocket after launch.
After the capsule landed, Blue Origin said its staff will re-enter the capsule to rehearse, open the hatch, and exit the spaceship.