Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft will eventually take to the skies again after a 15-month hiatus

At last, Blue Origin is taking to the skies again.

The company declared on Tuesday that the launch of its New Shepard spacecraft would not take place earlier than next Monday on the social media platform X.

“We’re targeting a launch window that opens on Dec. 18 for our next New Shepard payload mission,” the business said. “#NS24 will carry 33 science and research payloads as well as 38,000 @clubforfuture postcards to space.”

The science payloads from the New Shepard 23 flight, which had an engine nozzle failure at 1 minute and 4 seconds after liftoff in September 2022, will be reflown on the unmanned New Shepard 24 test flight. The emergency escape mechanism of the capsule worked as planned, quickly releasing the spacecraft from the exploding rocket and enabling Blue Origin to retrieve the payloads flown for NASA and other clients.

This spring, Blue Origin completed its analysis of the accident and put a fix in place, which involved redesigning the combustion chamber of the BE-3 engine. The company declared in May that it would resume flying “soon.” The Federal Aviation Administration then concluded its accident investigation in September.

Initially, the company planned to launch an unmanned return-to-flight mission in early October. However, two sources informed Ars that a problem approving an engine part meant for flight was the reason for the extra two-month delay.

An updated rocket?

The rocket and spacecraft that Blue Origin will be launching from its West Texas launch site, which is close to the town of Van Horn, next week have not been disclosed. Booster 1, the company’s first New Shepard rocket, was lost in midair on an April 2015 launch. Following a successful test of the launch escape system on its fifth and final flight, Booster 2 was retired in October 2016. The company’s oldest rocket, Booster 3, made its debut in December 2017 and was lost during the NS-23 mission in September.

Booster 4, the company’s most recent rocket, has only been used for human launches on New Shepard. For this rocket to be classified as a human-rated rocket, it has to undergo certain Booster 3 modifications. A fifth booster that the company has constructed might be used on the flight on Monday of next week.

The announcement on Tuesday coincided with a wave of high-profile retirements and the arrival of Dave Limp, a new chief executive who joined Blue Origin from Amazon, in a tidal wave of leadership changes this month. He took over for Bob Smith, who led Blue Origin in an inconsistent manner. Limp is probably assessing New Shepard’s long-term prospects, as Ars noted last month, given that the company is still far from breaking even financially.

The business may decide to concentrate on its bigger initiatives, which have a better chance of generating sizable sums of money, such as the New Glenn rocket and lunar lander for the Artemis program. Blue Origin has been financially supported by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who has contributed up to $2 billion annually for operating costs.

Blue Origin is obviously not giving up on New Shepard just yet, as evidenced by the news of the aircraft’s return to flight.

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