Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket successfully launched on December 19, 2023, marking its return to flight after a hiatus of over a year due to a mid-launch failure during a cargo mission in September 2022. The launch took place at 11:43 a.m. ET from Blue Origin’s facilities on a private ranch in West Texas. The NS-24 mission, as it was known, was uncrewed and carried 33 science payloads, more than half of which were developed by NASA. The mission also included 38,000 postcards from students around the world.
The New Shepard rocket is a fully reusable sub-orbital launch vehicle developed for space tourism by Blue Origin. The vehicle is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to travel into space. The New Shepard system is designed for operational reusability and minimal maintenance, and the only byproduct of its engine combustion is water vapor, resulting in no carbon emissions.
The September 2022 failure was due to a structural failure of an engine nozzle. The onboard computers accurately detected the failure and shut the engine down. The New Shepard capsule, which rides atop the rocket, then initiated its launch abort system, firing up a small engine to blast itself safely away from the failing rocket. This system worked as intended, parachuting the capsule to a safe landing. After the failure, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) required Blue Origin to take corrective actions, including a redesign of certain engine and nozzle components.
The successful launch of the NS-24 mission brings Blue Origin closer to its goal of offering trips to space for more people. The company is also developing a massive rocket called New Glenn, capable of hauling satellites and other payloads, which is expected to make its debut in 2024.