Featured Image Credit: Blue Origin
Lift Off Time
|January 14, 2021 – 17:17 UTC | 11:17 AM CST|
|New Shepard 4|
|Launch Site One, Corn Ranch, Texas, United States|
Where did the capsule go?
|SubOrbital trajectory, just above the Kármán line|
Did they recover the first stage?
Where did the first stage land?
|It will land at Blue Origin’s landing pad, ~3.3 km (2 miles) from the launch site|
Did they be attempting to recover the fairings?
|No. There are no fairings on the New Shepard launch vehicle.|
Were these fairings new?
|There are no fairings on the New Shepard launch vehicle.|
How was the weather?
This was the:
|– 14th flight of a New Shepard rocket|
– 1st flight of New Shepard 4
– 1st flight of Blue Origin in 2021
Where to watch
Everyday Astronaut Replay
How’d it go?
Blue Origin successfully conducted the 14th flight of its New Shepard launch vehicle on the NS-14 mission at 17:17 UTC (11:17 CST) on Thursday, January 14, 2021. New Shepard ignited its BE-3PM engine and boosted the capsule to an altitude of 107,050 m (351,215 ft) from sea level. The total mission time of 10 minutes and 15 seconds allowed teams to collect imperative data to the advancement of eventually flying humans. Both the booster and capsule landed successfully.
What did NS-14 do?
NS-14 flew on a suborbital trajectory with the attached capsule. It ferried the capsule up to just above the Kármán line. Once the capsule reached the apex it began falling back to Earth before landing under parachutes. The capsule was not designed to make it to orbit, however, it does make it just above the 100 km (60 miles) Kármán line that defines the border between Earth’s atmosphere and space.
There was a very special guest on this flight! Mannequin Skywalker, Blue Origin’s test dummy rode along and gathered data such as g force and acoustics to further rate the capsule and the entire vehicle for human flight. This capsule in particular has been fitted with more communications equipment, better crew displays and acoustics and thermal dampening for a more comfortable flight experience.
After separation of the capsule and the booster, the booster has a few minutes of free-fall before it reignites its BE-3PM engine to perform the landing burn. Currently, New Shepard and the Falcon 9/ Falcon Heavy are the only two launch vehicles to land propulsively, successfully.
What’s up with that crew capsule?
The New Shepard Crew Capsule has the capability to carry up to six people in a large pressurized 15 m3 (530 ft3) interior. Blue Origin’s main goal currently is to open up the experience of microgravity and see the curvature of the Earth to the general public. Each large window can let through 92% of visible light despite its structural ability to hold pressure making the experience that much more clear.
On the safety side of things, the capsule has a built-in solid-fueled abort motor, the Crew Capsule Escape Solid Rocket Motor (CCE-SRM) in the “pusher” configuration. Check out the Everyday Astronaut video and article on the difference and advantages/disadvantages to puller versus pusher motors. This motor comes from Aerojet Rocketdyne and has already been proof tested on the final flight of NS2.
What is New Shepard?
Aptly named New Shepard, after the first American to be launched on a suborbital trajectory, Alan Shepard, this rocket will only ever perform suborbital flights. So far there have been three New Shepard rockets built, NS1, NS2, and NS3. NS1 flew for the first time on April 29, 2015 and reached an altitude of 93.5 km (58.1 mi) before failing to land because of a hydrolic pressure issue. The capsule landed successfully by parachute and was recovered.
The New Shepard booster is powered by a single BE-3PM liquid-fueled engine with the capability of producing 489 kN (110,000 lbf) of thrust. The BE-3 is fueled by liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX) and had been developed and tested by Blue Origin in the 2000s.
Blue Origin then moved on to NS2, which completed the first successful launch and landing of a New Shepard booster on November 23, 2015 after reaching an apex of 100.5 km (330,000 ft). This marked the first time that a New Shepard rocket had carried a capsule to near the Kármán line, descended in a controlled fashion and landed successfully on deployable landing legs. About a month later SpaceX did one better – they landed an orbital class rocket booster for the first time. NS2 was also the booster to preform the famous in-flight abort where the Crew Capsule 2.0 fired its single solid-propellant abort motor at an altitude of 7.1 km (4.4 miles) to simulate a failure of the booster. This test was successful and both the capsule and booster were recovered. NS2 went on to complete five more successful test flights before it was retired.
After the retirement of NS2, Blue Origin had moved on to testing their still active NS3 vehicle. So far, NS3 has completed 7 successful flights with the first flight occurring on December 12, 2017. NS3 was also the booster to fly Crew Capsule 2.0, the second iteration of the capsule. Improvements to NS3 included enhanced recovery hardware to increase reusability, as well as increased thermal protection. There are more planned flights for NS3 with the next one being sometime during 2021.
NS4 for NS-14
NS-14 will be the first flight of the new NS4 rocket. NS4 has some improved accessibility panels for easier cleaning and checkout on the hardware. NS4 will be the booster to fly humans, and when asked about the timeline, Sara from communications said, “We have a couple more flights to go. We’ll fly when we’re ready.” Looking forward for what the future has to hold, NS4 is already taking us there.