It has now been a full year since Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle left Earth.
New Shepard was last launched on September 12, 2022, on an unmanned research mission from Blue Origin’s site in West Texas. About 65 seconds after liftoff, the vehicle’s reusable first-stage booster ran into trouble and crashed hard into the desert floor. The New Shepard capsule activated its emergency escape system and landed safely under parachutes, with its 36 research payloads intact.
In March, Blue Origin announced the results of its investigation into the anomaly: The nozzle on the first stage’s single BE-3PM engine suffered a “thermal structural failure,” which caused a thrust misalignment and led to an early end to the mission.
Related: The failure of Blue Origin’s New Shepard is a reminder that spaceflight is still difficult
in it Announcement March 24Blue Origin said it has begun implementing some corrective actions, “including design changes to the combustion chamber and operating parameters, resulting in reduced engine nozzle volume and hotline temperatures.” The company also stressed that it expects to return to flight “soon”, with the same 36 research payloads relaunched.
But it’s been 5.5 months since this update, and New Shepard hasn’t been released yet. Blue Origin did not provide further information about New Shepard’s condition and did not release a timeline for returning to flight.
The ill-fated flight in September 2022 was named NS-23, because it was New Shepard’s 23rd mission overall. Six of them carried people to and from suborbital space; The most recent manned flight was launched in August 2022.
At the time New Shepard was grounded, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin’s main competitor in suborbital space tourism, launched four passenger missions with its VSS Unity spaceplane.
Counting test flights, Virgin Galactic now has eight crewed space missions, two more than Blue Origin.
Both companies offer customers a few minutes of weightlessness and a view of Earth against the darkness of space. But VSS Unity stays in the air much longer than New Shepard — 60 to 90 minutes, on average, compared to 10 to 12 minutes.
“Web maven. Infuriatingly humble beer geek. Bacon fanatic. Typical creator. Music expert.”