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Image Credit: Blue Origin.

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

Blue Origin is targeting Wednesday, October 13, 2021 for the second crewed flight of the company’s New Shepard launch vehicle. The rocket is expected to blast off from Blue Origin’s launch site in West Texas on Wednesday morning at 08:30 CDT (local time) / 13:30 UTC. The single-stage, suborbital launch vehicle will carry four passengers, the Planet Labs co-founder Dr. Chris Boshuizen, Medidata Solutions co-founder Glen de Vries, actor William Shatner and Audrey Powers, Blue Origin’s Vice President of Mission & Flight Operations, to the edge of space and will safely return them back to the planet for a soft landing just minutes later.

At age 90 William Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk in the Star Trek franchise, will be the oldest human to fly to space. He will beat the record set by the 82 years old Wally Funk during Blue Origin’s first crewed flight on July 20, 2021.

The New Shepard

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 15 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.

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 and 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 Wally Funk the oldest.

New Shepard blasts off from its launch pad in Texas. Image Credit: Blue Origin.
New Shepard blasts off from its launch pad in Texas. Image Credit: Blue Origin.

Mission profile

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

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

Almost 2 ½ minutes into the flight, the BE-3 will cut off and the capsule will be separated from the booster stage. From now on, the four passengers will be experience micro gravity for several minutes.

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

Around 5 1/2 minutes after launch, the first stage is expected to deploy ring and wedge fins to stabilize its descent ahead of its landing. About a minute later, New Shepard will deploy several drag brakes to slow down. During the descent, the rocket will utilize 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 one kilometer, the BE-3 engine will reignite, slowing down the booster even further. About 7 ½ minutes after liftoff, New Shepard’s first stage is expected to land back on Earth at its dedicated landing pad, to be reused on the vehicle’s upcoming missions.

Landing of New Shepard's booster stage. Image Credit: Blue Origin.
Landing of New Shepard’s booster stage. Image Credit: Blue Origin.

Around eight minutes and 20 second into the flight, the crew capsule will deploy three drogue chutes to stabilize itself and then three main parachutes to slow down. Ten to eleven minutes after the fiery launch, the capsule will fire multiple retro rockets at its bottom and will touch down back on the planet for future reuse. Soon after the landing, recovery forces will arrive at the capsule’s location, to secure capsule and parachutes and to help the four passengers egress the vehicle.

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

Sources:

https://www.blueorigin.com/new-shepard/

https://www.blueorigin.com/news/next-human-flight-on-october-12

https://www.blueorigin.com/news/shatner-powers-announced-ns18

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