Blue Origin plans to launch the next test flight of its New Shepard suborbital booster Monday from West Texas as the commercial space company moves closer to flying people to the edge of space.
The company, founded by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, said in a tweet that teams have resolved an unspecified "ground infrastructure issue" that delayed the mission from December, and weather looks good for launch Monday.
The single stage New Shepard will lift off from Blue Origin's test facility north of Van Horn, Texas. Blue Origin says it will provide a live webcast of the flight, which is scheduled to take off at 9 a.m. CST (10 am EST; 1500 GMT)
The launch will mark the 10th flight of a New Shepard rocket, and the fourth flight of the reusable New Shepard vehicle currently in service.
When it takes off, the flight is expected to climb to an altitude of more than 60 miles – or 100 kilometers – powered by a hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine. NASA research payloads will fly inside a crew capsule on top of the New Shepard booster, but now passengers will be aboard the launch.
The booster and capsule will separate after shut down of the rocket's main engine. Both vehicles will come back to Earth, with the rocket aiming for a controlled vertical touchdown on a landing pad with the help of a burn-off from a hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine, and the capsule parachuting to the desert floor a few miles away.
Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin's head of astronaut strategy and sales, said at an industry conference Jan. 8 that the next New Shepard flight is a stepping stone before the company starts flying employees, and eventually paying passengers, to the edge of space and back.
"We have another launch coming up soon, which will be another test in terms of trying out New Shepard before we put people onboard, ”Cornell said at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' SciTech Forum in San Diego. "We're getting there, just like anxious as you are, but we have it right, and everybody wins when we do it right." Cornell said Jan. 8 that Blue Origin is "aiming to fly people early in 2019."
"But let's be very clear … only when we're ready," she said. “Believe me, if I could, I would jump on top of that rocket tomorrow. We already had several successful tests with New Shepard, and so I would love to go. But we are not selling tickets yet. We have not selected a price yet, despite what you might have read… We are determined when we are going to sell tickets. New Shepard through and through. ”
Monday's launch will be Blue Origin's first flight since July 18, when engineers showed the vehicle's high-altitude abortion capability.
The capsule's solid-fueled abortion Motor fired to quickly accelerate the craft away from the rocket, simulating the escape maneuver that would be used to quickly get away from a failing booster at high altitude. Blue Origin accomplished a lower-altitude abortion demonstration in 2016.
Blue Origin is currently running its third New Shepard booster, after release of the first vehicle during a landing accident and retiring the second rocket. A fourth New Shepard rocket has arrived at Blue Origin's West Texas launch site from the company's headquarters near Seattle to prepare for flights with people.
the edge of space for the first time Dec. 13 with two test pilots at the controls
The spaceShipTwo rocket plane reached a maximum altitude of 51.4 miles, or 82.7 kilometers, last month's test flight, above the 50-mile mark used by the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration to determine who gets awarded astronaut wings. Blue Origin's New Shepard flights, none of which have carried passengers or employees to date, have reached altitudes over the 100-kilometer (62-mile) Kármán line, the internationally-recognized boundary of space.
An April 29 New Shepard test Launch flew to an altitude of 351,000 feet, or about 107 kilometers. New Shepard flights have been launched and Blue Gal has not received applications from hundreds of people for $ 250,000. ticket to space, where passengers will experience several minutes of weightlessness.
Blue Origin is developing and much bigger rocket named New Glenn to carry satellites, and eventually people, into orbit.
, the New Glenn is scheduled for its first launch from Cape Canaveral in 2021, Cornell said.
Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1 .