Blue Origin is planning to launch an upgraded New Shepard spacecraft today, along with a test dummy named Mannequin Skywalker. You can watch the action live right here.
New Shepard Mission NS-14 is scheduled for launch at 11:57 a.m. ET (10:57 a.m. CT, which is local time) from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in west Texas. The livecast is expected to start around 30 minutes prior to lift off. You can watch it live below or at the Blue Origin website.
This will mark the 14th launch of the New Shepard program, which is now in its seventh year of uncrewed flight testing. Eventually, the reusable suborbital launch vehicle will take space tourists, around six per flight, to beyond the Kármán line—the internationally recognized boundary of space.
Peering through the capsule’s large windows, future passengers will have a glorious view, lasting around 11 minutes, of our blue planet at heights reaching 62 miles (100 km). The New Shepard spacecraft will enter into suborbital space, and, without entering Earth orbit, return to the surface shortly after launch. The booster will make a vertical landing, while the capsule will use parachutes to make its slow descent.
Prior to this happening however, Blue Origin needs to certify the capsule as being fit for humans. The company is very close to achieving this, with today’s launch being an important step.
Mannequin Skywalker (a play on Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars) has traveled to suborbital space before, but the test dummy should notice some new improvements.
The crew capsule has been modified to improve passenger experience, including enhanced acoustics and temperature control inside the vehicle, new crew display panels, speakers with a microphone, and a push-to-talk button on each seat, according to Blue Origin, which is owned and led by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and one of the wealthiest people on Earth. The capsule has also been fitted with six seats, one of which will be occupied by Mannequin Skywalker.
A key goal of New Shepard Mission NS-14 will be to test communications and safety alert systems. A successful test today could set the stage for an actual crewed flight, which isn’t expected until 2022. Blue Origin had originally hoped to start launching humans to space in 2019.
The price of a ticket to suborbital space is not yet known, with estimates ranging from $50,000 to $250,000 per seat. Sadly, these ventures to space won’t be immediately accessible to those of us in the 99%.