The Blue Origin New Shepard reusable launch system is a vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing (VTVL), suborbital manned rocket that is being developed by Blue Origin, a company owned by Amazon.com founder and businessman Jeff Bezos, as a commercial system for suborbital space tourism. The New Shepard makes reference to the first United States astronaut in space, Alan Shepard.
A sub-scale demonstration vehicle made its first flight on November 13, 2006.
As of 2006 the launch vehicle was to be assembled at the Blue Origin facility near Seattle, Washington. Also in 2006, Blue Origin started the process to build an aerospace testing and operations center on a portion of the Corn Ranch, a 165,000-acre (668 km2) land parcel Bezos purchased 40 km north of Van Horn, Texas. Blue Origin Project Manager Rob Meyerson has said that he selected Texas as the launch site particularly because of the state's historical connections to the aerospace industry, although that industry is not located near the planned launch site, and the vehicle will not be manufactured in Texas.
On October 19, 2012, Blue Origin conducted a successful Pad Escape at its West Texas launch site, firing its pusher escape motor and launching a full-scale suborbital Crew Capsule from a launch vehicle simulator. The Crew Capsule traveled to an altitude of 2,307 feet under active thrust vector control before descending safely by parachute to a soft landing 1,630 feet downrange.
In April 2015, Blue Origin announced that it had completed acceptance testing of the BE-3 engine that will power the New Shepard. Blue also stated that they intend to begin test flights of the New Shepard later this year, with initial flights occurring as frequently as monthly. They "expect a series of dozens of flights over the extent of the suborbital test program a couple of years to complete. The same month, the FAA announced that the regulatory paperwork for the test program has already been filed and approved, and test flights were expected to begin before mid-May 2015.
The first flight of the New Shepard vehicle was conducted on 29 April 2015 during which an altitude of 93,500 meters (307,000 ft) was attained. While the test itself was deemed a success and the capsule was correctly recovered via parachute landing, the booster stage landing failed because hydraulic pressure was lost during the descent.
In September 2015, a deal with NASA meant they would now launch from complex 36 at Cape Canaveral.
A second test flight of New Shepard was carried out on 23 November 2015, reaching 100.5Km altitude with successful recovery of both capsule and booster stage. The booster rocket successfully performed a powered vertical soft landing. Jeff Bezos was quoted as saying that Blue Origin planned to use the same architecture of New Shepard for the booster stage of their orbital vehicle. The Blue Origin orbital vehicle was announced on 15th September 2015 and has been nicknamed Very Big Brother.
The New Shepard is a fully-reusable, vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) space vehicle composed of two principal parts: a pressurized crew capsule and a booster rocket that Blue Origin calls a propulsion module. The New Shepard is controlled entirely by on-board computers, without ground control.
The pressurized crew capsule can carry six persons, and supports a "full-envelope" launch escape system that can separate the capsule from the booster rocket anywhere during the ascent. Interior volume of the capsule is 15 cubic meters (530 cu ft).
The New Shepard propulsion module is powered using a Blue Origin BE-3 bipropellant rocket engine burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, although some early development work was done by Blue Origin on engines operating with other propellants: the BE-1 engine using monopropellant hydrogen peroxide; and the BE-2 engine using high-test peroxide oxidizer and RP-1 kerosene fuel.
The New Shepard is expected to be launched vertically from West Texas and then perform a powered flight for about 110 s and to an altitude of 40 km. The craft's momentum would continue to carry it upward in unpowered flight and would decelerate until culminating at an altitude of about 100 km. After reaching apogee the vehicle would perform a descent and restart its main engines a few tens of seconds before vertical landing, close to its launch site. The total mission duration is planned to be 10 minutes.
The manned variant would feature a separate crew module that could separate close to peak altitude, and the propulsion module would perform a powered landing while the crew module would land under a parachute. The crew module can also separate in case of vehicle malfunction or other emergency using solid propellant separation boosters and perform a parachute landing.
Initial low altitude flight testing (up to 600 m) with subscale prototypes was scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2006. This was later confirmed in a press release by Blue Origin. It could involve up to ten flights. Incremental flight testing to 100 km altitude was planned to be carried out between 2007 and 2009 with increasingly larger and more capable prototypes. The full-scale vehicle was expected to be operational for revenue service in 2010, though that goal has not been met and the first test flight (a success) has slipped to 2015. It could fly up to 50 times a year. Clearance from the FAA was needed before test flights began, and a separate license is needed before commercial operations begin. The company held a public meeting on 15 June 2006 in Van Horn, as part of the public comment opportunity needed to secure FAA permissions. Blue Origin says that once cleared for commercial operation, they would expect to conduct a maximum rate of 52 launches per year. The RLV would carry three or more passengers per operation.
An initial flight test of a prototype vehicle took place on November 13, 2006 at 6:30 am local time (12:30 UTC); an earlier flight on the 10th being canceled due to winds. This marked the first developmental test flight undertaken by Blue Origin. The flight was by the first prototype vehicle, known as Goddard. The flight to 285 feet (87 m) in altitude was successful. Videos are available on the Blue Origin website and elsewhere.
A second test vehicle made two flights in 2011. The first flight was a short hop (low altitude, VTVL takeoff and landing mission) flown in approximately early June.
The vehicle is known only as "PM2" as of August 2011, gleaned from information the company filed with the FAA prior to it late August high-altitude, high-velocity second test flight. Media have speculated this might mean "Propulsion Module".
The second test vehicle was flown a second time on an August 24, 2011 test flight, in west Texas. It failed when ground personnel lost contact and control of the vehicle. The company recovered remnants of the space craft from ground search. On 2 Sep 2011, Blue Origin released the results of the cause of the test vehicle failure. As the vehicle reached Mach 1.2 and 45,000 feet (14,000 m) altitude, a "flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle."
Additionally, Blue Origin received US$3,700,000 in CCDev phase 1 to advance several development objectives of its innovative 'pusher' Launch Abort System (LAS) and composite pressure vessel As of February 2011, with the end of the second ground test, Blue Origin completed all work envisioned under the phase 1 contract for the pusher escape system. They also "completed work on the other aspect of its award, risk reduction work on a composite pressure vessel" for the vehicle.
As of March 2011, Blue Origin had submitted the New Shepard reusable launch vehicle for use as an unmanned rocket for NASA's suborbital reusable launch vehicle (sRLV) solicitation under NASA's Flight Opportunities Program. Blue Origin projects 100 km (62 mi) altitude in flights of approximately ten minutes duration, while carrying an 11.3 kg (25 lb) research payload.