After being grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration for more than 15 months, Blue Origin’s space tourism rocket, New Shepard, is cleared to fly again. The Jeff Bezos-owned space company announced yesterday (Dec. 12) in an X post it’s aiming to launch an uncrewed New Shepard mission no earlier than Dec. 18 from the company’s West Texas test site.
The mission, named NS-24, will carry 33 experiments and 38,000 postcards from Club for the Future, an educational nonprofit affiliated with Blue Origin.
New Shepard, named after NASA astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space, is a suborbital launch vehicle for flying science experiments and paying customers. The rocket has launched more than 30 of passengers, including celebrities, into space since entering operation in July 2021. In September 2022, an uncrewed New Shepard rocket experienced a booster failure, causing the vehicle to explode mid-flight. The FAA immediately grounded the launch program and opened a mishap investigation.
The investigation was concluded in September, with the FAA ordering Blue Origin to complete 21 corrective actions, ranging from engine modifications to unspecified organizational changes.
Also in September, Blue Origin’s then CEO Bob Smith announced he would step down at the end of this year. Bezos has appointed Dave Limp, a former Amazon executive, to lead the space company.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard program is a competitor of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which also flies paying customers to suborbital space but using a different launch system. Blue Origin is also developing an orbital rocket called New Glenn, named after NASA astronaut John Glenn, to carry out more ambitious space missions. Bezos has envisioned New Glenn to be the rocket for launching Blue Origin’s NASA and commercial contracts as well as Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellites, a competitor of SpaceX’s Starlink.
However, progress seems slow. New Glenn’s inaugural flight was originally planned in 2020. After multiple delays, Blue Origin is now aiming for 2024 to launch the rocket. Meanwhile, Amazon recently bought three missions from SpaceX to launch three batches of Kuiper satellites starting in 2025.
We’re targeting a launch window that opens on Dec. 18 for our next New Shepard payload mission. #NS24 will carry 33 science and research payloads as well as 38,000 @clubforfuture postcards to space. #FortheBenefitofEarth
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) December 12, 2023