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Image Credit: Blue Origin.

New Shepard launches four passengers, including William Shatner, to the edge of space

A New Shepard rocket of the American aerospace manufacturer Blue Origin yesterday successfully launched four passengers to the edge of space and safely returned them back to the planet. The single-stage, fully-reusable launch vehicle blasted off from the company’s launch site in West Texas at 09:49 CDT (local time) / 14:49 UTC, launching Planet Lab’s co-founder Dr. Chris Boshuizen, Medidata Solution’s co-founder Glen de Vries, Blue Origin’s Vice President of Mission & Flight Operations Audrey Powers, as well as William Shatner aka Captain James T. Kirk to an altitude of about 106 kilometers above sea level.

The mission, designated “NS-18”, was the 18th flight of a New Shepard and the vehicle’s second crewed flight.

At age 90, William Shatner became the oldest person in history to have flow into space, beating the previous record set by the 82 years old Wally Funk on July 20, 2021 during Blue Origin’s first crewed flight.

New Shepard blasts off from West Texas, carrying its four passengers to the edge of space. Image Credit: Blue Origin.
New Shepard blasts off from West Texas, carrying its four passengers to the edge of space. Image Credit: Blue Origin.

The New Shepard rocket

The New Shepard, named after Project Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, is a single-stage, liquid-fueled, fully-reusable, suborbital rocket, developed and operated by Blue Origin. The launch vehicle is designed to carry science experiments, as well as space tourists, to the edge of space and to safely return them back to the planet.

The rocket is launched from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas and has first flown on April 29, 2015. So far, New Shepard has conducted 16 flights over the Kármán line, an imaginary line used to define the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space, as well as two successful inflight escape tests.

New Shepard, in contrast to satellite-carrying orbital-class rockets, only consits of a single stage, which carries the capsule toward space. The booster is equipped with a single BE-3 rocket engine, which burns liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid hydrogen (LH2) as propellants. Because New Shepard is a fully-reusable launch system, the rocket stage is capable of performing a propulsive landing back on Earth for later reuse. In fact, the booster used for yesterday’s flight had flown three previous missions.

The crew capsule, which gets separated from the booster stage once the rocket’s engine shuts down, is environmentally controlled and offers space for up to six passengers or multiple micro gravity experiments. To safely land back on Earth, the capsule deploys three drogue chutes and three main parachutes to slow down and fires retro rockets just moments before touchdown, to softly hit the ground.

Earlier this year on July 20, 2021, Blue Origin conducted their first crewed test flight of the vehicle, by launching the company’s founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, the 18 years old Oliver Daemen and the 82 years old Wally Funk to the edge of space. The four safely landed back in West Texas just a few minutes after the launch, making Oliver Daemen the world’s youngest person to fly to space and until yesterday Wally Funk the oldest.

Mission profile

At T 0, the liquid oxygen / liquid hydrogen fueled BE-3 rocket engine ignited, lifting New Shepard and its passengers of the pad and toward space.

After about a minute of flight, the vehicle experienced Max-Q, the point of maximum aerodynamic pressure and broke the sound barrier.

Almost 2 ½ minutes into the flight, the BE-3 shut down and the capsule separated from the booster stage. From now on, the four passengers experienced micro gravity for several minutes.

Upon reaching their apogees, both the capsule and the booster started to descend back down to Earth.

Around 5 1/2 minutes after launch, the first stage deployed ring and wedge fins to stabilize its descent ahead of its landing. About a minute later, New Shepard deployed drag brakes to slow down. During the descent, the rocket utilized its four aft fins to guide itself to the landing pad a few kilometers away from the launch pad.

Just 15 seconds later at an altitude of about 1.2 kilometers, the BE-3 engine reignited, slowing down the booster even further. About 7 ½ minutes after liftoff, New Shepard’s first stage landed back on Earth at its dedicated landing pad, to be reused on the vehicle’s upcoming missions.

New Shepard's booster stage seen just moments before its landing. Image Credit: Blue Origin.
New Shepard’s booster stage seen just moments before its landing. Image Credit: Blue Origin.

Around eight minutes and 20 second into the flight, the crew capsule deployed three drogue chutes to stabilize itself and then three main parachutes to slow down. 10 min and 17 s after the fiery launch, the capsule fired multiple retro rockets at its bottom and safely and softly touched down back on the planet for future reuse. Soon after the landing, recovery forces arrived at the capsule’s location, to secure capsule and parachutes and to help the four passengers egress the vehicle.

The crew capsule descending under its three main parachutes. Image Credit: Blue Origin.
The crew capsule descending under its three main parachutes. Image Credit: Blue Origin.

Sources:

https://www.blueorigin.com/news/new-shepard-ns-18-mission-updates

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