Featured Image: Blue Origin
Lift Off Time
|April 14, 2021 – NET 16:49 UTC | 11:49 CDT|
|NS-15, an uncrewed suborbital flight|
|New Shepard 4|
|Launch Site One, Corn Ranch, Texas, USA|
Where is the spacecraft going?
|Sub-orbital trajectory, just above the Kármán line|
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
Where will the first stage land?
|It will land at Blue Origin’s landing pad, ~3.3 km (~2 miles) from the launch site|
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
|There are no fairings on the New Shepard launch vehicle.|
Are these fairings new?
|There are no fairings on the New Shepard launch vehicle.|
How’s the weather looking?
This will be 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 launch coverage will begin at T-1 hour with astronaut rehearsal activities.|
What’s all this mean?
Blue Origin will perform another suborbital flight of its New Shepard launch vehicle. Like the previous 14 flights, NS-15 will also be uncrewed. However, Blue Origin hopes to fly crew on upcoming flights. New Shepard only has the ability to launch on a suborbital trajectory with an apex (the highest point in a ballistic trajectory) of about 119 km (74 miles) – their record. This flight will aim to gather more data about the flight to ensure that it is safe for humans. Blue Origin will eventually be accepting the wealthiest of explorers to purchase tickets for suborbital flights.
What will NS-15 do?
Similarly to the last flight (NS-14), NS-15 will fly up on a suborbital trajectory with an attached capsule. After booster shutdown, the capsule will separate and continue on its trajectory until it reaches its apex and begins to fall back toward the surface. During the time of coast phase before reentry, the capsule and its crew will be in microgravity which lasts a couple of minutes. On human flights, this will be a unique opportunity for the occupants to feel weightless and perform experiments of their own. Blue Origin will also be send 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 will use their staff members to act as astronauts for every phase of launch operations besides the flight itself. Prior to launch, these “astronauts” will enter the capsule and perform a communications check with a Blue Origin Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) with the hatch closed. The astronauts will then exit the capsule before it lifts off from the pad.
Shortly after the landing, the “astronauts” will enter the capsule and close the hatch as if they had just landed. This will allow recovery teams to travel to the landed capsule and rehearse their recovery efforts which include crew exit. These events will allow Blue Origin to conduct and rehearse their launch sequence with the addition of passengers without risking humans lives on a spaceflight.
Mannequin Skywalker, Blue Origin’s test dummy will ride along and gather data, such as g-force and acoustics, to further rate the capsule and the entire vehicle for human flight. This capsule in particular is 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 will be 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, in which it landed successfully along with the capsule.