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Blue Origin could launch New Shepard again within just a "few weeks"

Sep 12, 2023

Blue Origin

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Blue Origin may soon launch its New Shepard suborbital rocket once again after it was grounded nine months ago following an anomaly that triggered the launch system's escape capsule during a science mission.

During a keynote speech at the Financial Times 'Investing in Space' event on June 6, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said the company is only a "few weeks" away from launching Blue Shepard to the sky again.

Blue Origin, founded by Amazon's Jeff Bezos in 2000, last flew its Blue Shepard suborbital rocket during an uncrewed scientific payload mission, designated NS-23, in September 2022.

During that mission, an anomaly caused the rocket to trigger the capsule escape system and jettison the scientific payloads a safe distance away from the rocket booster, which was destroyed.

At least some paying customers, including Draper, which tested a lunar navigation system during the mission, were able to retrieve their intact scientific payloads, but Blue Shepard was grounded by the Federal Aviation Authority, pending an investigation.

Blue Origin has since released a statement explaining that the issue was caused by a structural failure in New Shepard's BE-3PM engine nozzle caused by excessive temperatures.

At the 'Investing in Space' event this week, Smith said Blue Origin "knew very soon after the event what exactly happened," and that it was "working through with the FAA on the process by which we go back to flight."

The Blue Origin CEO added that the NS-23 incident hasn't affected demand for the company's space tourism service: "People saw a very safe system," he explained, with "a real abort scenario where the capsule came down fine and was ready to go the next day."

"We're now dotting the i's and crossing the t's to get through [the FAA process]", as well as getting our system ready to go fly again," Smith continued. "New Shepard, from that standpoint, should be ready to go fly within the next few weeks."

Blue Origin was recently awarded a $3.4 billion contract by NASA to develop a second lunar lander for the space agency's Artemis Moon missions. The private space firm is also preparing for the first launch of its Starlink-rivaling Project Kuiper internet satellites, as well as the first launch of its orbital New Glenn rocket.

Though New Shepard will likely fly again soon, Smith was less confident about the launch date of New Glenn, which was once expected to launch in 2020. "If you want to know what the launch date is for New Glenn, I can give you one but it's going to be wrong," he said. "I don't know if it's going to arrive early or arrive late."