Blue Origin successfully demonstrated crew capsule upgrades with a launch and safe return of its New Shepard rocket on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021.

The Kent-based company completed its 14th mission to 347,568 feet and back today in west Texas, with dummy passenger “Mannequin Skywalker” on board.

Mission NS-14 featured a crew capsule outfitted with astronaut experience upgrades for upcoming flights with passengers onboard.

The company said that the upgrades consist of acoustics, temperature regulation, crew display panels, speakers with a microphone and push-to-talk buttons at each seat.

“The mission will also test several astronaut communication and safety alert systems,” the company said. “The capsule will be fitted with 6 seats with one seat being occupied by Mannequin Skywalker. This mission will be the qualification flight for the never flown New Shepard 4 booster and capsule to allow crewed launches.”

Here’s video of the launch:

Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle carried more than 50,000 postcards to space and back on behalf of Club for the Future, from students in 13 countries, more than 350 schools in the U.S., and one from a British research station in Antarctica. A selection of postcards flew in the pocket of Mannequin Skywalker, which occupied one of the six seats in New Shepard’s crew capsule.

One of the postcard batches onboard was sent by students from Space Camp in Huntsville, AL. .

During the tour, Club for the Future planted tomato seeds in Space Camp’s Mars Habitat donated by Tomatosphere, a project run by Let’s Talk Science and First the Seed Foundation. Tomatosphere seeds were flown by Club for the Future onboard New Shepard Mission NS-13 in October 2020.

Club for the Future was also proud to fly postcards from West Sound STEM Network in Washington State, including Discovery Elementary School in Peninsula School District, John Sedgwick Middle School in South Kitsap School District, and West Hills STEM Academy in Bremerton School District.

Other postcards will be returned to students and classrooms in Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, France, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Norway, Russia, Spain, and the United Kingdom. All postcards flown onboard New Shepard will be stamped with ‘Flown to Space’ and NASA Artemis stamps.

Capsule upgrades included:

    • Speakers in the cabin with a microphone and a push-to-talk button at each seat so astronauts can continuously talk to Mission Control.
    • First flight of the crew alert system with a panel at each seat relaying important safety messages to passengers.
    • Cushioned wall linings and sound suppression devices to reduce ambient noise inside the capsule.
    • Environmental systems, including a cooling system and humidity controls to regulate temperature and prevent capsule windows from fogging during flight, as well as carbon dioxide scrubbing.
    • Six seats.
    • Also today during ascent, the booster rotated at 2-3 degrees per second. This is done to give future passengers a 360-degree view of space during the flight.

This flight continued to prove the robustness and stability of the New Shepard system and the BE-3PM liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine.

Also onboard today were more than 50,000 postcards from Blue Origin’s nonprofit Club for the Future. The Club has now flown over 100,000 postcards to space and back from students around the world. More information here.

Key Mission Stats:

    • 15th consecutive successful crew capsule landing (every flight in program, including pad escape test in 2012).
    • The crew capsule reached an apogee of 347,568 ft above ground level (AGL) / 351,215 ft mean sea level (MSL) (105 km AGL/107 km MSL).
    • The booster reached an apogee of 347,211 ft AGL / 350,858 ft MSL (105 km AGL/106 km MSL).
    • The mission elapsed time was 10 min, 10 sec and the max ascent velocity was 2,242 mph / 3,609 km/h.
    • All mission crew supporting this launch exercised strict social distancing and safety measures to mitigate COVID-19 risks to personnel, customers, and surrounding communities.

Scott Schaefer

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