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Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket aces record 7th launch, landing in test flight

Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard rocket on an uncrewed test flight over West Texas today (Oct. 13).

The uncrewed New Shepard launch vehicle, which consists of a reusable rocket and space capsule, lifted off from the company's West Texas launch facility at 8:36 a.m. CDT (9:36 a.m. EDT; 1336 GMT). After separating from the rocket booster, the capsule gently parachuted back down to Earth while the booster executed a flawless vertical landing. 

Today's test mission, called NS-13, was the seventh consecutive test flight of this particular rocket booster and the 13th flight for Blue Origin's New Shepard program. The private spaceflight company, which was founded in 2000 by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, plans to use New Shepard to launch commercial passengers into suborbital space. 

Related: Blue Origin's amazing NS-11 New Shepard test flight in photos

"Touch DOWN, New Shepard here we go," Blue Origin's Caitlin Dietrich said as the booster returned to Earth about 8 minutes after liftoff. "That never gets old."

The capsule also landed cleanly, a bit more than 10 minutes after blastoff. "Congratulations to Team Blue today," Dietrich said. "I'm a little bit out of breath, this is really exciting, but it sounds like everything went well today."

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Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle blasting off from the launch pad on Oct. 13, 2020.

Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle blasting off from the launch pad on Oct. 13, 2020. (Image credit: Blue Origin)
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The crew capsule of Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle slowed by parachutes during its landing on Oct. 13, 2020.

The crew capsule of Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle slowed by parachutes during its landing on Oct. 13, 2020. (Image credit: Blue Origin)
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The Blue Origin New Shepard (NS-13) booster sensor experiment undergoes integration and testing at the company's West Texas launch facility.

The Blue Origin New Shepard (NS-13) booster sensor experiment undergoes integration and testing at the company's West Texas launch facility. (Image credit: Blue Origin)
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NASA's Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution (SPLICE) descent and landing computer, seen here in the foreground, and the navigation Doppler lidar engineering test unit (background) undergo preparations for a suborbital flight test.

NASA's Safe and Precise Landing – Integrated Capabilities Evolution (SPLICE) descent and landing computer, seen here in the foreground, and the navigation Doppler lidar engineering test unit (background) undergo preparations for a suborbital flight test. (Image credit: Blue Origin)
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Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle made its 13th flight on Oct. 13, 2020.

Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle made its 13th flight on Oct. 13, 2020. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

For the NS-13 mission, New Shepard carried 12 science payloads to space and back. One of those payloads was NASA's Deorbit, Descent and Landing Sensor Demonstration, which was the first payload to ever ride to space on the New Shepard capsule's exterior rather than inside the spacecraft. The experiment will help develop new landing technologies for NASA's Artemis program, which aims to put humans back on the moon in 2024. 

"The experiment will verify how these technologies (sensors, computers, and algorithms) work together to determine a spacecraft’s location and speed as it approaches the moon, enabling a vehicle to land autonomously on the lunar surface within 100 meters of a designated point," Blue Origin officials said in a statement

"The technologies could allow future missions — both crewed and robotic — to target landing sites that weren't possible during the Apollo missions, such as regions with varied terrain near craters," the statement added. (Blue Origin is also leading a national team that's developing a human-rated moon lander for Artemis.)

Other payloads on NS-13 include a floating plant growth system called µG-LilyPond, a new system for sampling asteroids in low-gravity environments, and new cooling technology for keeping spacecraft from overheating. 

Blue Origin also sent tens of thousands of postcards to space and back as part of the NS-13 mission. The postcards were written and submitted by grade school students via Blue Origin's nonprofit organization, Club for the Future

Today's launch was rescheduled from Sept. 24, when a power glitch to the payloads forced Blue Origin to scrub the flight.

With 13 test flights under its belt, New Shepard could soon start carrying commercial passengers on 10-minute space tourism flights to suborbital space. But Blue Origin has not yet announced the date of its first crewed test flight, and the company has not yet started to sell tickets. 

Email Hanneke Weitering at hweitering@space.com or follow her on Twitter @hannekescience. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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  • Erik
    #13 ... to SPACE ??... ALL flights have been SUB orbital, barely breaking the
    Karman line...
    Reply
  • Ryan F. Mercer
    Erik said:
    #13 ... to SPACE ??... ALL flights have been SUB orbital, barely breaking the
    Karman line...

    It is in reference to the lunar lander they won a contract for, not the New Shepard rocket.

    "...New Shepard carried 12 science payloads to space and back. One of those payloads was NASA's Deorbit, Descent and Landing Sensor Demonstration... The experiment will help develop new landing technologies for NASA's Artemis program... 'The experiment will verify how these technologies (sensors, computers, and algorithms) work together to determine a spacecraft’s location and speed as it approaches the moon...'"

    I get what you're saying though. Much about Blue Origin is still on the drawing boards only, and while New Shepard might be an excellent suborbital rocket, it is only that. They're getting great results, but their development time is slow. Talk to me when they have another prototype.
    Reply
  • monkeyonmars
    Bezos should find a Musk and Shotwell to lead his company - Bob Smith? must be an old space veteran.
    Reply