New Shepard: Blue Origin’s Tourist Rocket and Where It Will Fly

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What is New Shepard and where will it fly?

Oct. 13, 2021, 7:01 a.m. ET

Oct. 13, 2021, 7:01 a.m. ET

By Joey Roulette

The Blue Origin launch site near Van Horn, Texas, on Tuesday morning.Credit…LM Otero/Associated Press

New Shepard is the centerpiece rocket of Blue Origin’s space tourism business. A booster rocket at the bottom stands six stories tall, with a capsule sitting on top that can seat up to six crew.

The suborbital rocket is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to reach space in 1961 and one of the astronauts who walked on the moon. It takes off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One, a launchpad in rural West Texas about 100 miles from of El Paso.

The full mission lasts about 10 minutes. New Shepard launches to an altitude of roughly 63 miles, a widely recognized marker of where space begins and known as the Karman line.

At peak altitude, the booster rocket releases its crewed capsule. The booster then begins a descent back toward the ground, reigniting its single engine to land vertically on a slab of concrete five miles from where it launched.

Back in space at the same time, the crew capsule is suspended in a free fall some 63 miles high. The passengers experience roughly four minutes of weightlessness in microgravity as well as views of Earth’s slightly curved horizon where its atmosphere meets space. Each seat has its own window of 3.5 feet by 2.3 feet.

“I’m thrilled and anxious, and a little nervous and a little frightened, about this whole new adventure,” Mr. Shatner said during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show on Monday.

During Blue Origin’s first crewed flight in July, passengers unbuckled and floated throughout the 530-cubic-foot capsule, amused by the weightlessness. They tossed candies to one another and did somersaults before getting back in their seats.

During the capsule’s free fall toward land, it deploys an initial set of parachutes to brake its speed, then another set of three bigger parachutes to carry the capsule softly to land at about 15 miles per hour. Milliseconds before landing in the desert — also not far from the launchpad — the capsule releases a burst of air from its underside to cushion the touchdown. The seats inside are supported by a scissor-like mechanism that further limits the impact.

Blue Origin had boasted that the windows on New Shepard’s crew capsule are the biggest to fly in space, but Elon Musk’s SpaceX snatched that superlative in September when it launched its Crew Dragon capsule to low-Earth orbit with a new glass dome that stretches 46 inches wide and 18 inches deep, covering 2,000 square inches in all.

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