Blue Origin’s reusable booster makes sixth flight in a row
Blue Origin's New Shepard booster completed its 12th successful test flight (NS-12) on December 11, and the first using a booster that has now made six consecutive missions. At 11:53 am CDT, the single-stage rocket lifted off from the company's West Texas launch site in Van Horn for a 10 min 16 sec flight, where the unmanned crew capsule reached a maximum ascent velocity of 2,222 mph (3576 km/h) and an altitude of 346,727 ft (106 km).
Until today, Blue Origin has flown two boosters on five consecutive missions, but NS-12 marks the first time that one has flown six times in a row with minimal refurbishment between flights. With the first passenger-carrying flight scheduled for next year, this particular rocket is described as an operational payload vehicle, so its systems are no longer being updated.
Named after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, New Shepard is designed to be a fully reusable vertical takeoff/vertical landing rocket for taking passengers and payloads on suborbital flights into space, reaching altitudes above 62 mi (100 km) before returning to Earth. The goal is to drastically reduce flight costs by ensuring the booster needs as little refurbishment as possible between missions.
The single-stage booster is powered by Blue Origin's BE-3PM engine, which burns a mixture of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to generate a maximum thrust of 110,000 lb, though it can be throttled down to 20,000 lb for landings.
When New Shepard reaches an altitude of 250,000 ft (106 km), the crew capsule separates and continues coasting unpowered to an altitude of 350,000 ft (106 km). Blue Origin says that the capsule and the rocket are both fully autonomous, so every astronaut aboard is a passenger. There is no crew.
At the end of the flight, the booster makes a controlled, powered landing while the capsule returns to Earth using parachutes and retro-rocket fires at the last moment for a soft landing. During the flight, the capsule experiences three minutes of zero gravity.
Blue Origin says that New Shepard is not only intended to carry passengers and payloads into space but is also being used as a testbed to develop the company's orbital launch vehicle New Glenn and the Blue Moon lunar lander.
For today's flight, the capsule carried Blue Origin's ninth commercial payload. This included two high school and middle school art experiments, an experiment from Columbia University built by undergraduates to look at the effects of zero gravity on cell biology, and a recycling experiment to harvest useful gases from common waste on deep space missions.
The video below recaps the latest flight.
Source: Blue Origin