Blue Origin Tests Crew Capsule Upgrades in Rocket Launch

Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, conducted another successful test flight of its New Shepard rocket on Thursday January 14th.

The company intends to use the rocket for suborbital space tourism flights. According to CNBC News, the first crewed test mission may take place as early as April this year.

Thursday’s takeoff (see video above) from Blue Origin’s launch site in West Texas marked New Shepard’s 14th successful suborbital flight since its first outing in 2015.

As with previous test missions, the rocket carried the crew capsule to the Karman Line – widely regarded as the starting point of space – before separating. The capsule continued to gain altitude, reaching 351,215 feet above sea level before making a parachute-assisted landing back to earth just over 10 minutes after takeoff. The missile landed safely on solid ground just over seven minutes after it left the launch pad.

One of the goals of this week’s mission was to test out a new six-seat crew capsule (see video above) that comes with a number of upgrades.

This includes new indoor speakers with a microphone and a push-to-talk button for each seat so that the crew can talk to Mission Control continuously. A new warning system for the crew has also been fitted with a panel on each seat, relaying important safety messages to those traveling aboard the capsule.

Environmental systems have also been added, including a cooling system and humidity controls, to regulate temperature and prevent capsule windows from fogging up during flight. For a more comfortable ride, the capsule now has padded wall panels and soundproofing devices to reduce ambient noise.

The flight also continued to demonstrate the robustness and stability of the New Shepard system and the BE-3PM liquid hydrogen / liquid oxygen engine, Blue Origin said.

Shortly after the mission on Thursday, the company released a short video (below) showing a view of the capsule in flight. Take a close look and you’ll also see Mannequin Skywalker, the company’s test manikin, which appears to be placed inside to add size to the capsule’s large windows that future space tourists will peer out of when marveling at the breathtaking view.

Breathtaking views from space today. #NewShepard

– Blue Origin (@blueorigin) January 14, 2021

Blue Origin isn’t the only company looking to bring high paying people the trip of a lifetime. Virgin Galactic is also planning a suborbital space flight tourism service, but its system uses a runway launch with a carrier aircraft instead of a rocket. SpaceX also has plans for space tourism services, though apparently it is targeting more ambitious trips that could even include a visit to the International Space Station.

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