Update for 10:30 a.m. EDT: Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard booster and capsule today. Read our full story here!
Blue Origin's New Shepard suborbital vehicle will launch on its 11th test flight this morning (May 2), and you can watch the spaceflight action live.
The reusable rocket-capsule combo is scheduled to lift off from Blue Origin's West Texas testing ground at 9:30 a.m. EDT (1330 GMT; 8:30 a.m. local Texas time). The uncrewed flight will carry 38 microgravity research payloads to suborbital space and back, company representatives announced via Twitter Wednesday (May 1).
New Shepard is named after NASA astronaut Alan Shepard, who in May 1961 became the first American to reach space. Shepard's mission was a suborbital one, unlike that of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who had reached Earth orbit a few weeks earlier.
New Shepard is designed to carry paying customers, offering them great views of Earth against the blackness of space and a few minutes of weightlessness (for a price that remains unknown; Blue Origin has not divulged how much a seat will cost). The first crewed flights of the vehicle could come as early as this year, Blue Origin representatives have said.
But New Shepard will also serve scientific purposes, carrying payloads up and back for researchers.
Indeed, there are nine different NASA studies riding on tomorrow's flight. They include a 3D printing test that could help space manufacturing for future moon bases, a suborbital centrifuge for life-science studies and an investigation into the behavior of space and moon dust.
Those studies are just the latest NASA experiments to fly on New Shepard. On the vehicle's recent NS-10 test flight, which lifted off in January, toted multiple experiments for the space agency.
That mission lasted 10 minutes and 15 seconds and reached a maximum altitude of 66 miles (107 kilometers), Blue Origin officials said at the time.
New Shepard's rocket comes back to Earth vertically, slowing its descent via engine firings like the first stages of SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets do. The suborbital craft's capsule comes down under parachute.
New Shepard will be a stepping-stone toward much bigger things, if all goes according to plan. Blue Origin's long-term vision involves helping to get millions of people living and working in space, company founder Jeff Bezos has said. And Blue Origin already has a number of other projects in the works, from big rockets called New Glenn and New Armstrong to the Blue Moon lunar lander.
- How Blue Origin's Suborbital Rocket Ride Works (Infographic)
- Jeff Bezos Lays Out Blue Origin's Rocket Reusability Vision for Space Travel (Video)
- Home on the Moon: How to Build a Lunar Colony (Infographic)
Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.