Featured Image: Blue Origin
Lift Off Time
|April 14, 2021 – NET 16:451 UTC | 11:51 CDT|
|NS-15, an uncrewed suborbital flight|
|New Shepard 4|
|Launch Site One, Corn Ranch, Texas, USA|
Where did the spacecraft go?
|Sub-orbital trajectory, just above the Kármán line|
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
Where did the first stage land?
|It hovered and softly touched down on Blue Origin’s landing pad, ~3.3 km (~2 miles) from the launch site|
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
|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:
|– 15th launch of a New Shepard rocket |
– 2nd flight of New Shepard 4
– 2nd flight for Blue Origin in 2021
Where to watch
|Official replay with astronaut rehearsal|
How did it go?
Blue Origin successfully launched their New Shepard 4 rocket and the capsule RSS First Steps on the NS-15 mission. This mission began with four Blue Origin employees, or “astronauts”, conducting a rehearsal of capsule ingress and communications check with an egress shortly before launch. After touchdown, the “astronauts” reentered the capsule to simulate and rehearse the process post-landing.
On the NS-15 mission, the maximum ascent velocity reached 3,615 km/h (2,247 mph) and the capsule reached an altitude of 106.3 km (66.1 miles), which is just above the Kármán line at 100 km. This mission lasted 10 minutes 27 seconds with approximately 3 minutes of zero gravity. After a long series of test flights, Blue Origin’s CEO Jeff Bezos said on Instagram, “It’s time.” This could indicate the launch of humans on a New Shepard rocket in the near future. The Blue Origin Host mistakenly said on stream that crew will fly on New Shepard “Next time.”
What did NS-15 do?
Similarly to the last flight (NS-14), NS-15 flew up on a suborbital trajectory with an attached capsule. After booster shutdown, the capsule separated and continued on its trajectory until it reached its apex and began to fall back toward the surface. During the time of coast phase before reentry, the capsule experienced microgravity for about 3 minutes. On crewed flights, this will be a unique opportunity for the occupants to feel weightless and perform experiments of their own. Blue Origin also sent 25 thousand postcards on the flight from around the world as part of their Club for the Future Program.
For the first time in the New Shepard program, Blue Origin used their staff members to act as astronauts for every phase of launch operations besides the flight itself. Prior to launch, these “astronauts” entered the capsule and performed a communications check with a Blue Origin Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) with the hatch closed. The astronauts then exited the capsule before it lifted off from the pad.
Shortly after the landing, the “astronauts” reentered the capsule and closed the hatch as if they had just landed. This allowed recovery teams to travel to the landed capsule and rehearse their recovery efforts which included crew exit. These events allowed Blue Origin to conduct and rehearse their launch sequence with the addition of passengers without risking human lives on a spaceflight.
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 was fitted with more communications equipment, better crew displays, and acoustics and thermal dampening for a more comfortable flight experience.
What is the 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 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.
For safety, the capsule has a built-in solid-fueled abort motor known as the Crew Capsule Escape Solid Rocket Motor (CCE-SRM) in the “pusher” configuration. Check out the Everyday Astronaut video and article on the differences and advantages/disadvantages to puller versus pusher configured 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 four New Shepard rockets built: NS1, NS2, NS3, and NS4. 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 hydraulic 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 was developed and tested by Blue Origin in the 2000s.
After the failure of NS1, 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 (62.4 miles). This marked the first time that a New Shepard rocket had carried a capsule to just above 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 perform 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.
NS-15 was the second flight of the NS4 rocket. NS4 has some improved accessibility panels for easier cleaning and checkouts on the hardware. NS4 will be the first booster to fly humans, and when asked about the timeline, Blue Origin stated, “We have a couple more flights to go. We’ll fly when we’re ready.” NS4 has already performed one flight prior to this one, in which it landed successfully along with the capsule.