After over a year of waiting, New Shepard has returned to flight. Following a scrubbed launch on the 18th, New Shepard cleared the tower flying the NS-24 mission on December 19th at 10:43 AM. The flight carried 33 experimental payloads, ranging from student projects to NASA-funded research, to the edge of space and back again. Both the Propulsion Module and Crew Capsule returned to the ground safely, and while there was no crew riding on this flight, the successful mission paves the way for a return to crewed flights in the near future.
Among the slew of payloads launched on NS-24 flight commentators singled out a space-rated fuel cell being developed by aerospace technology firm Infinity Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Inc., for use under NASA’s Artemis program to provide reliable power sources on the lunar surface. Also on this flight was the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s FORGE (Fluidic Operations in Reduced Gravity Experiment) which was described as only one of many fluid-physics physics on NS-24. An experiment designed by elementary schoolers, named “Spring into Space,” tested the tension and relaxation of a spring under acceleration, providing schoolchildren with the chance to participate in designing a payload for space. New Shepard also carried 38,000 postcards from Blue Origin’s “Club for the Future” space-education outreach program. Commentators indicated that, despite the gap in flights, demand for New Shepard flights has increased and Blue Origin may be expanding their vehicle fleet next year.
New Shepard’s latest flight comes over 15 months after the failure of NS-23, which resulted in the loss of a booster due to a failure on the BE-3 engine. Today the suborbital rocket rose over a very different Blue Origin than the one it left in September of last year. 2023 has been, despite the lack of flights, a tantalising year for the company. This year saw the selection of Blue Moon Mark 2 as the second Human Landing System for NASA’s Artemis Program, the start of engine testing at Test Stand 4670, a static firing of two BE-4 engines integrated with ULA’s first Vulcan rocket, expected to fly on January 8th, announcements of new technology, updates on older projects, and more.
Next year, as stated by launch commentator Eddie Seyfert, Blue Origin will be “entering a new chapter, evolving from a research-focused startup, to a premiere space launch, manufacturing, and servicing company.”. With Blue Origin engines flying on several Vulcan flights scheduled for next year and Blue Origin’s own New Glenn expected to fly at least once in 2024, the new year will see the results of many years of hard work. The success of NS-24 is a promising first step and an indication of good things still to come. As said by Blue’s commentary team, “it’s always day one,” we will have to see what tomorrow brings.