Blue Origin enlarges New Glenn’s payload fairing, preparing to debut upgraded New Shepard

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PARIS — Blue Origin will likely launch the third iteration of its New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle by year’s end, paving the way for a human-rated version and ironing out the reusability plan for the orbital New Glenn rocket.

The company also revealed a large, 7-meter payload fairing for New Glenn, meant for launching more voluminous payloads than the original design.

Clay Mowry, Blue Origin’s vice president of sales, marketing and customer experience, said Sept. 12 that the third New Shepard incorporates lessons learned from the previous model that launched and landed five times before retiring last October.

“We have a new upgraded version of New Shepard that has actually been shipped to the launch site, and we’ll be flying again before the end of this year,” Mowry said at  Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week here. “We hope to have human flights in 2018. It’s designed to take six astronauts into suborbital flight above the Von Karman line.” 

Blue Origin New Glenn 7-Meter Fairling
Blue Origin graphic showing New Glenn with a 7-meter payload fairing. Credit: Blue Origin.

The third New Shepard has modifications for improved reusability, he said, such as access panels that enable more rapid servicing in between flights. Blue Origin is also trying to improve New Shepard’s thermal protection.

“Our third propulsion module we are going to test hopefully by the end of this year — we are going to fly it again, testing it next year, and then there is a fourth propulsion module that will be coming, which is the one we actually fly people on,” he said. “We are step by step trying to incorporate lessons learned as we go.”

Another major difference between the second and third versions include real capsule windows, Mowry said — the ones on version two were painted.

Mowry said Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin’s founder, has invested $2.5 billion in New Glenn, and that the rocket has no funding from the U.S. government. Blue Origin has been working on New Shepard for over a decade. The first vehicle launched in April 2015, reaching the edge of space but failing to land.

While New Shepard’s future is in human spaceflight and suborbital payload research, Mowry framed that vehicle’s progress as beneficial to the satellite industry because of the strides made toward reusability for New Glenn.

“For us, New Shepard is really a vehicle we are using to teach ourselves how to launch, how to ramp, how to refurbish the vehicle and to re-fly again, and to do that at a much lower cost than we can do with the orbital vehicle — about a 50th the cost of flying an orbital mission,” he said.

New Glenn customers so far are Eutelsat and OneWeb for one launch and five launches, respectively. The rocket, which can carry 45 metric tons to low-Earth orbit and 13 metric tons to geostationary-transfer orbit, is scheduled to debut in 2020.

Mowry said the 7-meter fairing is the result of input from market demand and customer reactions. The original fairing was 5.4 meters, he said.

With a 7-meter fairing, New Glenn will be able to launch higher quantities of small satellites or geostationary satellites with larger antennas and structures.