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Bezos’ Space Tourism Venture Set for Restart After Explosion Forced 2-Year Hiatus

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Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket at its launchpad in West Texas.

 

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket at its launchpad in West Texas.
Photo: Blue Origin

 

Blue Origin is preparing to send a crew of private astronauts to suborbital space, finally resuming its space tourism program on New Shepard after nearly two years of it being grounded.

The New Shepard rocket is set to liftoff on Sunday from Launch Site One in West Texas during a launch window that begins at 9:30 a.m. ET, according to Blue Origin. The NS-25 mission will carry a six-person crew, including 90-year-old Ed Dwight, who was selected in 1961 as the first Black astronaut candidate but never got to fly to space. The launch will be broadcast live through Blue Origin’s website.

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Jeff Bezos’ space company had paused its suborbital tourism program following a liftoff malfunction of the New Shepard rocket. In September 2022, an uncrewed flight of New Shepard ended in flames around a minute after liftoff.

The rocket’s booster exploded mid-flight and its capsule abandoned ship while traveling at roughly 700 miles per hour (1,130 kilometers per hour) and at 29,000 feet (8,840 meters) above the ground. At the time, New Shepard was carrying 36 payloads, more than half of which belonged to NASA.

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In light of New Shepard’s explosive liftoff, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded the rocket and launched an investigation into the botched flight. A year later, the FAA handed Blue Origin a list of 21 corrective actions to implement before the rocket could be deemed fit for flight.

Blue Origin identified a “thermo-structural failure of the engine nozzle” as the reason behind the rocket’s failed launch. The nozzle on the booster’s engine overheated as a result of increased temperatures that caused “thermal damage and hot streaks,” according to the company.

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The liftoff malfunction was a first for Blue Origin’s launch vehicle. The rocket rebounded with the launch of an uncrewed flight in December 2023. For its 13th cargo mission, NS-24 carried 33 research payloads (no humans), more than half of which were “developed and flown with support from NASA,” the company wrote. The payload mission paved the way for the rocket to resume its crewed flights once again.

NS-25 will be its seventh human flight, shuttling its passengers to suborbital heights. New Shepard’s last space tourism mission took place in August 2022, and carried a crew of six private astronauts, which included the first person from Egypt to fly to space.

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The very first seat on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket sold for $28 million through a global auction in 2021. The price for a ticket on the company’s space tourism rides has not been made public, although reports have suggested that a seat on New Shepard costs around $1.25 million.

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