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Blue Origin's New Shepard spaceship on pad
Blue Origin is preparing its New Shepard suborbital spaceship for a test flight that’s expected to push the envelope. (Blue Origin Photo)

Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, says it’ll push its New Shepard suborbital spaceship “to its limits” during its ninth flight test.

The test is set to take place as early as 8 a.m. PT Wednesday.

In a tweet, the company said it would conduct a high-altitude escape motor test to check the procedure for an emergency late in the flight sequence. A follow-up tweet said Blue Origin’s website would offer live video and commentary from its West Texas test facility, starting 20 minutes before launch.

So far, flight tests have been conducted autonomously, without a crew. But the Kent, Wash.-based company says it’s aiming to start sending people on quick trips to the edge of space by the end of the year.

For the third time, a test dummy nicknamed Mannequin Skywalker will be sitting in one of the crew capsule’s passenger seats, collecting data about the quality of the ride.

There’ll also be a variety of scientific payloads in the capsule, designed to take advantage of the few minutes of weightlessness experienced at the top of the up-and-down trajectory.

The manifest includes a suite of payloads from Blue Origin employees, contributed through an internal “Fly My Stuff” program. Blue Origin didn’t specify how many of the payloads are scientific experiments, as opposed to personal items that are destined to become “space-flown” memorabilia.

Blue Origin said other payloads include:

  • Schmitt Space Communicator Xperimental (SC1-x): Provided by Solstar (Santa Fe, N.M.), developed with private funding and with support from NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program. The experiment will continue a series of tests for commercial WiFi in space.
  • GAGa (Granular Anisotropic Gases): Provided by Otto-von-Guericke University (Magdeburg, Germany) with end-to-end service provider OlympiaSpace (Darmstadt, Germany) and funding from Germany’s DLR space agency. The GAGa payload investigates the statistics of granular gases, dilute collections of solid grains that interact by random collisions. Data will contribute to understanding the dynamics of related systems like avalanches and cosmic dust clouds.
  • Suborbital Flight Experiment Monitor-2 (SFEM-2): Provided by NASA Johnson Space Center. The experiment will record vehicle conditions including cabin pressure, temperature, carbon dioxide levels, acoustic conditions and acceleration.
  • Condensed Droplet Experiment for NASA in Sub-Orbital Spaceflight (ConDENSS): Provided by Purdue University, funded through NASA Flight Opportunities Program. ConDENSS will examine the behavior of small droplets of water in order to support the development of small and efficient heat transfer systems for spaceflight.
  • APL Electromagnetic Field Experiment: Provided by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, funded through NASA Flight Opportunities Program. The experimental platform uses sensors to monitor magnetic fields and ambient pressure inside the vehicle.
  • Vibration Isolation Platform Data Logger: Provided by Controlled Dynamics, funded through NASA Flight Opportunities Program. VIP DL is a technology demo for an active stabilization platform that aims to allow the most sensitive payloads flying on New Shepard to be isolated from ambient vibrations, allowing for higher-precision microgravity studies.
  • mu Space-1: Provided by mu Space Corp. (Bangkok, Thailand). Mu Space is the first of Blue Origin’s New Glenn customers to purchase a slot on New Shepard. Its payload includes an assortment of scientific and medical items, several textile materials planned for use on future spacesuits and other apparel, and other special articles for community partners.

Blue Origin started flying suborbital payloads on a paying basis last December. At one point, the introductory list price for flying a student experiment was as little as $5,300. Houston-based NanoRacks is in charge of payload integration.

Update for 6:36 a.m. PT July 18: We’ve updated the scheduled time for launch, which was originally 7 a.m.

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