Blue Origin aces New Shepherd test mission, paving the way for human flights

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Blue Origin's New Shepherd capsule just passed its latest test flight.
Image: Blue Origin

The private spaceflight industry is getting crowded as numerous companies challenge Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has a spaceflight firm of his own called Blue Origin.

On Thursday, the company reached an important milestone as it successfully launched its upgraded New Shepard crew capsule during a test flight. It is the vehicle’s 14th test flight, but it’s worth noting that the latest version includes a number of features that will make passengers more comfortable during their trip to space.

In a statement prior to the launch, Blue Origin said, “The upgrades include improvements to environmental features such as acoustics and temperature regulation inside the capsule, crew display panels, and speakers with a microphone and push-to-talk button at each seat.”

It went on to say, “The mission will also test a number of astronaut communication and safety alert systems. The capsule will be outfitted with six seats, including one occupied by Mannequin Skywalker.”

The successful test flight brings Blue Origin one step closer to sending humans into space.

Flying Colors

At 9:20 a.m. PT on Thursday, Blue Origin’s rocket blasted off from a launchpad in Texas, CNET reports. Once in the air, the New Shepard capsule continued to the upper limits of the atmosphere while the rocket booster returned to Earth. It eventually landed about two miles away from the launchpad.

The capsule followed shortly after thanks to the help of several parachutes. The entire test flight took just ten minutes from start to finish.

CNET’s Eric Mack notes that it has been more than five years since Blue Origin originally flew its New Shepard capsule. A lot of things have changed since then, including the capsule itself and the private spaceflight industry.

It will be interesting to see how much longer it takes Blue Origin to realize its plans for human spaceflight. SpaceX has already sent NASA astronauts into orbit to reside on the International Space Station (ISS). Although it hasn’t flown private citizens just yet, SpaceX seems to be the first company that could do so in theory.

Blue Origin and others aren’t far behind. Even so, these firms have been reluctant to share details about when people will be able to book a trip to space—and how much those flights will cost.

Space Goes Commercial

At this point, it’s inevitable that that outer space will be commercialized. Whether it’s by a large company building its own space station to test new products or people touring orbit like it’s a new country, space can only remain scientific for so long.

Companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic are here to make sure of it. However, the private spaceflight industry still has some hurdles to overcome (mostly regulatory matters) before that can happen.

Meanwhile, anyone who isn’t a millionaire will be waiting a long time to experience space for themselves. The first tickets aboard rockets built by private spaceflight firms will almost certainly cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Although those costs will come down eventually, it won’t happen anytime this decade.

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