Blue Origin set to pick up the pace for space

Image: Blue Origin launch
Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship rises from its launch pad in June. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, plans to accelerate its current once-every-eight-weeks schedule for flight tests of its New Shepard suborbital spaceship, leading up to the first crewed flights next year, one of the company’s executives said today.

The variety of scientific experiments being flown on the flights will also widen, according to Erika Wagner, Blue Origin’s business development manager. Wagner provided a glimpse of the road ahead for the New Shepard program at the International Space Station Research and Development Conference, which is under way this week in San Diego.

The New Shepard spacecraft was built at Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Wash., but it’s undergoing testing at the company’s West Texas launch site. The reusable, hydrogen-fueled craft already has made four successful uncrewed flights to the edge of outer space and back, including two missions that carried research payloads.

Wagner told the San Diego audience that Blue Origin’s payload manifest has been planned out for the next year, and would add biology experiments to the mix. The team is also looking at ways to modify the spacecraft so that experiments can be exposed to the space environment, rather than staying inside the pressurized New Shepard capsule throughout the flight, she said.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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