New space: Blue Origin

The aerospace company Blue Origin is a famous New Space company which was founded in 2008 by Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos in Kent, Washington, USA and is currently developing two launch systems. The first is the suborbital launch system New Shepard and bigger orbital launch system New Glenn.

New Shepard

Blue Origin’s suborbital launch system

New Shepard is Blue Origin’s suborbital launch system and the name is referring to Astronaut Alan Shepard who was the first American in Space by performing a suborbital flight with a Mercury-Redstone rocket and the capsule Freedom in May 1961. New Shepard is Blue Origin’s development platform to learn more about re-usability, their performance of there in-house produced rocket engines and landing of the rocket. But its not only a test article. The suborbital launch system consists of the Propulsion Module – often referred as booster – called Tail and the Crew Capsule called RSS (Reusable Space Ship). Inside of the Crew Capsule Blue Origin wants to send six or later seven tourists or scientists on a suborbital flight above the Karman Line (Border to space at 100 km altitude) with a affordable price for private customers in the near future.

Video about New Shepard

Development of the flight components

Development of the 18 m height vertical-takeoff and vertical-landing system started right after the founding of Blue Origin by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. The first development step to New Shepard was the flight of Charon (named after dwarf planet Pluto). This test article was powered by four plane engines and went around 100 meters vertical up to the sky and landed back on its legs vertical. The main goal of this test flight in March 2005 was to check the development of the autonomous guidance control system.

One year later, in November 2006, another test article called Goddard (named after Robert H. Goddard a American rocket pioneer) went to the sky powered by six Blue Origin’s first rocket engines BE-1. Goddard reached a maximum height of 85 meters and went back to the ground and performed a soft landing. After it’s maiden flight the test article performed (without information to the public) another two flights in 2007.

The next step toward New Shepard was PM-2 (Abbreviation for Propulsion Module 2). The first launch powered with five Blue Origin’s second rocket engine BE-2 in May 2011 was a success. But on it’s second flight PM-2 lost control 14 km above the ground and was destroyed.

The test of the solid rocket engine developed by US company Rocketdyne, the launch abort system for the crew capsule, was the last step before a launch of the full New Shepard launch system in October 2012. The crew capsule went successful away from a Mockup of the Tail and went 703 meters up into the sky and landed successful under parachutes.

Test flights of New Shepard

The first launch of the New Shepard launch system occurred on 29th April 2015. The first RSS landed successful under parachute but the booster Tail-1 was destroyed during a autonomous landing attempt. During this first attempt the crew capsule achieved a height of 93.5 kilometres but did not surpassed the Karman line.

First flight of Blue Origins New Shepard system

But the second launch of the Blue Origin’s New Shepard on 23rd November 2015 was a full success. The booster Tail-2 landed – just controlled only by its flight computers – successful vertical back on earth – also the RSS surpassed the Karman line with an maximum altitude of 100.5 kilometres.

2nd flight of New Shepard system with successful Tail landing

But Blue Origin’s goal is fast re-usability of their launch systems. So the third launch on 22nd January 2016 – just two months after the second flight – was the flight to show the fast turnaround of the RSS and the Tail. The crew capsule passed with 101.7 kilometres the Karman line again and the Tail landed for the second time successful on the landing pad at the Corn Ranch in Texas.

3rd flight of New Shepard with full reused Tail and RSS

The reliability of the parachute system was tested at the fifth flight of the New Shepard system with the fifth flight of the RSS-1 and the forth flight of the Tail-2. The crew capsule landed successful with just two parachutes instead of three – and Tail-2 landed successful again.

5th flight of New Shepard with two parachutes

The next important test for Blue Origin’s New Shepard was a In-flight Abort Test one mission later. The RSS-1 fired it’s solid rocket engine during ascent to space and achieved a soft landing under parachutes. The booster Tail-2 landed unexpected also successful on the landing pad.

5th flight of New Shepard with Inflight-Abort Test

The second generation crew capsule RSS-2 went with the the new booster Tail-3 on a nominal flight on a suborbital flight close to the Karman line at the end of the year 2017. It was the first time that onboard of the capsule commercial payload went into space. Together RSS-2 and Tail-3 made seven suborbital flights between there first flight on 12th December 2017 and 13th October 2020 and was used by Blue Origin for commercial payload flights and to improve re-usability and reliability of the New Shepard system.

7th flight of New Shepard with Tail-3 and RSS-2

Blue Origin’s manned spaceflight

The mission NS-14 – the 14th flight of the New Shepard launch system marked the preparation for the first manned commercial flights. Blue Origin used the new booster Tail-4 and a new crew capsule called RSS “First step” which was fully equipped for manned space flight including six seats. The 14th flight was a full success, too.

Three months later Blue Origin performed NS-15 mission of New Shepard on 14th April 2021. It is New Shepard final mission before the first manned spaceflight. The mission was used to train the on- and off-boarding process for future space tourist. This mission went smoothly, again.

The first manned flights are now expected during the next few launches in the year 2021 and commercial flights in 2022. Blue Origin lost with this the opportunity to be the first company who send tourists on a private developed manned spacecraft to space to the big rival SpaceX.

Table of all Blue Origin New Shepard flights:

MissionDateTail / RSSResultDetails
129nd April 2015Tail-1 / RSS-1Partial successMax. altitude: 93.5 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Destroyed during landing
223rd November 2015Tail-2 / RSS-1SuccessMax. altitude: 100.5 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
322nd January 2016Tail-2 / RSS-1SuccessMax. altitude: 101.7 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
42nd April 2016Tail-2 / RSS-1SuccessMax. altitude: 100.0 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
519th Juni 2016Tail-2 / RSS-1SuccessMax. altitude: 100.0 km attitude
RSS: Landed with 2 parachute
Tail: Landed
65th Oktober 2016Tail-2 / RSS-1SuccessMax. altitude: 100.0 km attitude
RSS: Landed after Inflight Abort
Tail: Landed
712th Dezember 2017Tail-3 / RSS-2 “H.G. Wells” SuccessMax. altitude: 99.3 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
First payloads and Dummy onboard
829th April 2018Tail-3 / RSS-2 “H.G. Wells” SuccessMax. altitude: 107 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
Payloads and Dummy onboard
918th July 2018Tail-3 / RSS-2 “H.G. Wells” SuccessMax. altitude: 118.8 km attitude
RSS: Landed after High-altitude abort test
Tail: Landed
Payloads and Dummy onboard
1023rd January 2019Tail-3 / RSS-2 “H.G. Wells” SuccessMax. altitude: 106.9 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
Payloads onboard
112. Mai 2019Tail-3 / RSS-2 “H.G. Wells” SuccessMax. altitude: 105.6 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
Payloads onboard
1211th December 2019Tail-3 / RSS-2 “H.G. Wells” SuccessMax. altitude: 104.5 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
Payloads, Art and postcards onboard
1313th October 2020Tail-3 / RSS-2 “H.G. Wells”SuccessMax. altitude: 107 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
Payloads onboard
1414th January 2021Tail-4 / RSS-3 “First Step”SuccessMax. altitude: 107 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
Crewed configuration with test dummy
1514th April 2021Tail-4 / RSS-3 “First Step”SuccessMax. altitude: 105,4 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
Crewed configuration with test dummy and training of onboarding & offboarding of the crew capsule with humans. Flight without humans.
1620th June 2021Tail-4 / RSS-3 “First Step”Success Max. altitude: 107,1 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
This flight NS-16 was the 1st flight of New Shepard with people on-board. The passengers were Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark Bezos. Another passenger was former Pilot and Mercury 13 candidate Wally Funk. She was 83 years old during this flight and is the oldest person who went into space. The last remaining seat went to 17 years old Dutch Oliver Daemen. He is the youngest person who went into space. The person with the highest bit during a online auction skipped the flight because of conflicts in the time schedule and want to fly later.
1726th August 2021Tail-3 / RSS-2 “H.G. Wells” Success Max. altitude: 105,6 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
It was a payload mission to fly the NASA Lunar Landing Experiment for the second time and a art installation into space.
1813th October 2021Tail-4 / RSS-3 “First Step” Success Max. altitude: 105,88 km attitude
RSS: Landed
Tail: Landed
This flight NS-18 was the second manned suborbital space flight of New Shepard. The passengers were William Shatner (know as Commander T. Kirk in Star Trek Enterprise), Blue Origin employee Audrey Powers and the two rich man Chris Boshuizen and Glen de Vries. 90 years old William Shatner became the oldest human in space.