COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship performed beautifully during five trips to space and back, but the company founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is already upgrading the next model to capitalize on the lessons learned to date.
Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson pointed out some of the upgrades this week here at the 33rd Space Symposium during an impromptu session with journalists who were waiting to climb inside a mock-up of the New Shepard crew capsule.
The scorch-scarred New Shepard booster was on display just a few yards away, and Meyerson said his team was getting ready for a new series of uncrewed test flights at Blue Origin’s suborbital launch facility in West Texas. “We’re building out the fleet, and we want to get multiple vehicles out in the field,” he said.
He said the development team has changed “some little things,” such as the thermal protection coating on the booster’s crowning ring fin. During descent, the ring fin is designed to brake the booster’s descent.
“We learned from the flight program that we were beating that up, and it’s just kind of hard to refurbish,” Meyerson said. Over the course of the flight tests, the spray-on coating was replaced with a hardier metallic coating, he said.
“We saved many hours of turnaround time, just on that change alone,” he said.
Blue Origin also changed the timing of the rocket firing during descent to save on propellant. “It gives you a little bit more performance, so you can go a little bit higher,” Meyerson said.
The mere fact that the booster is reusable makes a big difference. “That’s where the learning comes from. Being able to do similar things over and over again, you get faster at it, you get more practiced at it. And it allows you to use your precious time doing something else,” Meyerson said.
Meyerson has worked in the space business for decades, including 14 years at Blue Origin. “It feels great to finally get to this point,” he said. “We’re on the cusp of changing the industry.”
If the flight test program proceeds the way Bezos hopes, paying passengers could be climbing into a crew capsule and riding the upgraded booster to outer space by the end of next year.
But the booster on display in Colorado will never fly again. Last year, Bezos said he intends to donate it to a museum. For now, the road trip continues. Meyerson said one of the future stops on the tour would be the EAA Airventure air show, scheduled in July in Oshkosh, Wis.