Blue Origin Returns New Shepard To Flight

Credit: Blue Origin

After a 15-month hiatus to address a booster nozzle issue that caused its last launch to fail, Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle returned to suborbital space on Dec. 19 for a cargo flight ahead of resuming passenger service next year.

The reusable, two-stage New Shepard vehicle lifted off from the company’s privately owned spaceport in West Texas at 11:42 a.m. EST, kicking off a 10 min.,13 sec. hop into suborbital space.

About 2 min. 30 sec. after liftoff, the propulsion module, powered by a single liquid-oxygen and liquid-hydrogen powered BE-3 engine, shut down as planned and separated, leaving the gumdrop-shaped New Shepard capsule to coast to an altitude of 66.5 mi. above Earth.

It was the 24th launch of a New Shepard vehicle.

The propulsion module, which was flying for the ninth time, made a successful vertical landing, setting the stage for a possible 10th flight. After a few minutes in microgravity, the capsule followed with a parachute descent back to the Texas desert.

Blue Origin’s last launch, New Shepard-23 (NS-23),  failed about 1 min. after liftoff on Sept. 12, 2022. The company in March said the accident was caused by a thermo-structural failure of the engine nozzle due to “operational temperatures that exceeded the expected and analyzed values of the nozzle material.”

Engineers later determined that NS-23’s nozzle had operated at hotter temperatures than previous design configurations. Among other changes, Blue Origin said it modified the design of the combustion chamber, as well as operating parameters, to improve structural performance under thermal and dynamic loads.

Blue Origin did not discuss the changes, nor the 15-month hiatus in flights, during the launch webcast of NS-24. The company declined additional comment.

The next launch of a New Shepard vehicle is expected to carry passengers. A launch date was not announced.

NS-24 carried 33 payloads from NASA, academia, research institutions and commercial companies. Most of the payloads were rebooked from the NS-23 manifest after failing to reach space. The company also flew 38,000 postcards as part of its educational outreach nonprofit, Club for the Future.

Irene Klotz

Irene Klotz is Senior Space Editor for Aviation Week, based in Cape Canaveral. Before joining Aviation Week in 2017, Irene spent 25 years as a wire service reporter covering human and robotic spaceflight, commercial space, astronomy, science and technology for Reuters and United Press International.