Blue Origin reschedules New Shepard test flight

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Updated Jan. 20 2:20 p.m. Eastern with revised launch date.

WASHINGTON — Blue Origin has rescheduled a test flight of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle for Jan. 22 as the company edges closer to flying people into space.

The company announced Jan. 18 that it had rescheduled the flight, designated NS-10, for Jan. 21 from the company’s test site in West Texas. The announcement coincided with the release of a notice to airmen, or NOTAM, by the Federal Aviation Administration restricting airspace around the site between 8:30 am and 3 p.m. Eastern Jan. 21 through 23.

However, the company announced Jan. 20 that it was postponing the flight for at least a day, citing high winds in the forecast ans “one vehicle open issue,” which it did not specify. The announcement came after the release of a revised NOTAM earlier in the day that reserved airspace for Jan. 22 and 23 only.

Blue Origin had planned to carry out the flight Dec. 18, but postponed it because of an unspecified ground infrastructure issue. Once that problem was corrected, the company said Dec. 19 that it “determined additional systems need to be addressed,” and pushed back the launch to early 2019.

The flight will be the first for New Shepard since a July 18 launch that tested the abort motor in the crew capsule. The motor fired shortly after the capsule separated from its propulsion module, with the capsule making a regular landing under parachutes while the propulsion module made a powered vertical landing.

The vehicle will be carrying nine experiments provided by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. The experiments on the flight are from a mix of universities, institutes and NASA centers. The payloads range from microgravity research payloads in fields like fluid dynamics and planetary science to technology demonstrations that will monitor conditions in the vehicle.

The upcoming flight will not carry people. However, company officials said in recent weeks that they expect to start flying people on New Shepard later this year.

“Soon — we’re aiming for this year — we will be putting people in that capsule,” said Ariane Cornell, head of astronaut strategy and sales at Blue Origin, during a panel session on commercial space at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board here Jan. 16.

The company, though, has yet to start selling tickets for commercial flights of New Shepard, or even set a ticket price, Cornell said at another conference earlier this month.

Tourists won’t be the only people Blue Origin plans to fly on New Shepard missions. “We will be putting scientists and engineers in the capsule with their experiments as well, for tended payloads,” she said.