Blue Origin’s New Shepard relaunches for a second suborbital flight.
For the second time in as many months, Blue Origin successfully relaunched their New Shepard booster first flown in November.
The company posted a video to their website yesterday showing the successful January 22 flight, which reached an altitude of 63.2 miles, a mile higher than November’s flight. The flight profile remained the same, here the crew capsule boilerplate was released at apogee and parachuted to the ground.
It also marked the first time their booster has been reused for suborbital flight. Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin’s CEO, stated that refurbishment protocols were straight forward. The crew capsule’s parachutes were repacked, pyrotechnics were reloaded, and general avionics checks were performed on the booster. He also stated that the largest single change was in landing software used by the rocket.
Instead of targeting the direct center of the landing pad, the booster now takes into consideration its relative lateral movement. This way, the rocket isn’t fighting low-level winds or other circumstances that would push the booster off-course. Bezos compares it to a runway aiming for the centerline of a runway, but still landing even if it’s deviated a few feet from it.
The first test of New Shepard was in April, 2015. The flight and crew capsule reached an altitude of 58 miles, however, the booster lost pressure in its hydraulic system, and it crashed upon impact. November 23 saw a second test vehicle reach an altitude of 62.4 miles and successfully landed 11 minutes after launch.
This was the first time a rocket flew above the von Karman line, the internationally-defined boundary between the atmosphere and space, and returned successfully to the Earth. Blue Origin and SpaceX are both developing rockets that can be reused after flight. However, New Shepard is a suborbital rocket while the Falcon 9 is an orbital-class vehicle. Read more about the differences between the two systems here.