Blue Origin’s New Shepard has now been grounded for nearly six months, and it’s unclear when the suborbital space-touring vehicle will take to the skies again.
New Shepard suffered an anomaly on its final flight, an uncrewed search mission that lifted off on September 12, 2022. New ShepardThe reusable first-stage booster was lost as a result, although the upper-stage capsule managed to land safely under parachutes.
blue origin hasn’t provided many updates on the anomaly since then. But maybe that’s because there’s still not much to say; the company continues to probe failure, SpaceNews’ Jeff Foust reported (opens in a new tab) earlier this week.
“We are now investigating this anomaly, its cause,” Gary Lai of Blue Origin, chief architect of New Shepard, said Tuesday (Feb. 28) at the Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Colorado, Foust wrote.
“We’ll get to the bottom of it,” Lai added. “I cannot speak to specific timelines or plans for when we will resolve this situation other than to say that we fully intend to resume operations as soon as we are ready.”
Related: The failure of Blue Origin’s New Shepard is a reminder that spaceflight is always difficult
The September 12 mission – called NS-23 because it was the 23rd flight overall for New Shepard – was intended to carry 36 payloads on a brief trip through suborbital space and back.
But something unexpected happened about 65 seconds after takeoff, which happened from the Blue Origin site in West Texas. New Shepard’s booster hit the ground hard and was presumably destroyed, but the capsule activated its emergency escape system and returned safely to Earth.
“I can tell you with certainty that the acceleration environment we experienced was exactly what we predicted. It was exactly as the astronauts were trained,” Lai said of the arresting performance of urgency of the capsule, according to Foust. “Everything went as planned.”
This was the second in-flight anomaly for New Shepard, after the one that occurred during the vehicle’s first launch in 2015. On that occasion, the booster crashed and was destroyed, but the capsule managed to reach the suborbital space as expected.
Six of New Shepard’s 23 missions to date have been outfitted. The first of these passenger flights took off in July 2021carrying the founder of Blue Origin Jeff Bezos and three other people into suborbital space and back. The most recent crewed flight was in August last year.
New Shepard flights are brief, lasting only 10 to 12 minutes from takeoff to landing of the capsule. But a lot of action is packed into this window; passengers can experience a few minutes of weightlessness, for example, and seeing the curve of the Earth against the blackness of space. Blue Origin did not disclose how much it charges for a seat in the vehicle.
Blue Origin used different New Shepard vehicles for manned and unmanned flights. All six passenger missions used the New Shepard RSS First Step, while recent payload-only rides used the HG Wells RSS.
Mike Wall is the author of “Over there (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or Facebook (opens in a new tab).