As the company continues to test the vehicle and prepare to offer rides to other ultra-wealthy thrill seekers, the rocket that took Jeff Bezos to space last month just took another brief, suborbital jaunt to the upper reaches of the atmosphere, this time without people on board.
New Shepard, the suborbital rocket developed by Bezos’ Blue Origin, flew for the 17th time. The 60-foot-tall vehicle took off from a small launch pad at Blue Origin-owned facilities in West Texas on Thursday morning, carrying only a few science experiments and works of art rather than passengers, and flew more than 60 miles across the landscape before landing in a pinpoint, upright landing at a nearby concrete pad.
The initial launch had been delayed by an hour due to a “payload readiness issue,” according to Blue Origin, but the rest of the flight did not appear to be harmed as a result of the delay.
Uncrewed suborbital test missions by New Shepard have frequently included experiments, and on Thursday’s flight it flew a “lunar landing technology demonstration” on behalf of NASA. Blue Origin used the New Shepard rocket to test a set of sensors and computer algorithms that could one day be used to navigate a lunar lander.
Last month, Bezos and three other passengers became the first humans to ride aboard New Shepard, which had previously only conducted uncrewed test flights.
After the flight, Bezos gushed about his experience, saying, “Oh my God! expectations were high, and they were dramatically exceeded.” But Wally Funk, one of the “Mercury 13” women who was previously denied the opportunity to go to space but flew alongside Bezos as a “honored guest” last month, had mixed feelings about the experience. I thought I was going to see the world but we weren’t quite high enough,” Funk added in the post-flight press conference.”
Blue Origin’s suborbital tourism flights fly more than 60 miles above the earth’s surface, which is roughly where outer space begins. Even the International Space Station, which orbits more than 200 miles above the Earth, is too far away to provide a comprehensive view of the planet.
Despite the fact that Thursday’s flight was unmanned, Blue Origin said it plans to fly two more crewed flights this year.
Bezos intends to use the New Shepard rocket to launch a suborbital space tourism company, directly competing with Virgin Galactic, which has developed an air-launched, rocket-powered space plane. (Just days before Bezos’ flight last month, Branson took his own flight to the edge of space.)