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Blue Origin resumes manned suborbital New Shepard flights

Blue Origin yesterday flew its first suborbital New Shepard flight since a failure during an unmanned flight in 2022, flying six passengers on a short ten-minute jump.

This suborbital flight got a lot of press yesterday and today, but I consider these suborbital tourist flights somewhat old news. Had they occurred two decades ago, in the 2000s as promised, they could have helped trigger the commercial space industry. Instead, both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic took another two decades to get started, and by that time orbital tourist flights were taking place.

There might be money to be made in suborbital hops like this, but the future of space exploration lies elsewhere.

As for Blue Origin, this flight confirms that the company has fixed the nozzle issues that caused the September 2022 launch failure. During ascent just after launch the spacecraft’s abort system activated, sending the New Shepard capsule free from the first stage booster, which subsequently crashed. The capsule landed safely with parachutes.

The investigation then stretched out over more than two years. It remains unclear why it took so long, though the FAA’s regulatory burden appears to have been one factor, with Blue Origin’s own sluggish pace of operations another.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Ray Van Dune

    Perhaps significantly, perhaps not, the capsule landed with one of its parachutes only partially deployed.

  • pzatchok

    It is nice that they are still doing these promotional flights annually.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “Had they occurred two decades ago, in the 2000s as promised, they could have helped trigger the commercial space industry. Instead, both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic took another two decades to get started, and by that time orbital tourist flights were taking place.

    The delay also encouraged the skeptics of commercial manned flight. If suborbital was this difficult, then orbital was unlikely. Boeing’s Starliner would have been the proof positive, except that SpaceX’s manned Dragon had been so successful.

    In addition, had Blue Origin or Virgin Galactic started revenue service a decade earlier, they would have made millions of dollars over that timeline, and would be in full operation today. They continue to find customers, because the alternative is still out of the price range of most individuals.

    Orbital flights on Dragon are likely to continue being flights for experimenters, because they are just too expensive for popular tourism. Robert called them “tourist flights,” but every one of them, so far, have performed experiments and testing, either on board or on the ISS. Privately-funded science is making a comeback.

    As Starship comes online, reducing the per-person cost of spaceflight, New Shepard and SpaceShipOne will eventually become second-rate rides rather than the highly desired trips into space that they are today. Especially if Starship starts city-to-city service, as some people expect.

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