Blue Origin capsule with fliers
Blue Origin’s New Shepard crew capsule is designed to send up to six people to the edge of space and back. (Blue Origin Photoillustration)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is planning to live-stream the first test flight of its first passenger-friendly space capsule on Thursday.

If all goes according to plan, Blue Origin will launch a never-before-flown New Shepard crew capsule and booster from its West Texas facility on an uncrewed suborbital space trip as early as 9:45 a.m. CT (7:45 a.m. PT), with coverage streamed via Blue Origin’s website and YouTube.

Coverage is due to begin 30 minutes before launch, with the precise timing dependent on weather and technical readiness.

The capsule has been dubbed the RSS First Step. RSS stands for “Reusable Spaceship,” while First Step refers to Blue Origin’s intent to use the craft for crewed flights beginning later this year.

Blue Origin’s previous 13 New Shepard test flights made use of two earlier-generation capsules and three earlier-generation boosters. In a pre-launch advisory, Blue Origin says that the new crew capsule has been outfitted with upgrades for the astronaut experience — including improvements in acoustics and temperature regulation system as well as display panels, speakers and microphones with push-to-talk buttons for each of the cabin’s six seats.

This mission, known as NS-14, will also test a number of communication and safety alert systems. A sensor-equipped test dummy nicknamed Mannequin Skywalker will occupy one of the seats.

Among the payloads packed aboard the capsule will be more than 50,000 postcards sent in by students around the globe through the auspices of Blue Origin’s Club for the Future educational campaign. Some of those postcards will even be tucked inside Mannequin Skywalker’s pockets.

Previous batches of postcards were flown during New Shepard test missions in December 2019 and October 2020.

Blue Origin executives had thought New Shepard would be taking on crewed suborbital flights by now — but that was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Coronavirus complications added to the snags that are typically encountered in the course of testing a new spaceship.

The company isn’t yet taking reservations for passenger flights, and it hasn’t yet set the ticket price for New Shepard trips. But back in 2019, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said the price for the first commercial passengers would probably be in the range of “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Blue Origin builds the hardware for the suborbital New Shepard program at its headquarters in Kent, Wash. The company is also working on an orbital-class New Glenn rocket that will be built in and launched from Florida, as well as a lunar landing system that would be built for NASA’s use in partnership with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.



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