Spaceflight Insider

The Hangar / New Shepard

New Shepard Image

Photo Credit:

US Flag Blue Origin Logo

New Shepard is a fully reusable suborbital vehicle designed by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin to launch space tourists and suborbital microgravity payloads. It will fly to the internationally recognized “border” of space, the von Kárman line, at 62 miles (100 km) altitude. The rocket uses vertical takeoff/vertical landing (VTVL) operations and is powered by a restartable liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen main engine. The first Blue Origin VTVL vehicle, Goddard (named for American rocket pioneer Robert Goddard), flew in 2006.

The maiden flight of the first full-scale New Shepard 1 (NS1)–named for the first American astronaut Alan Shepard–occurred on April 29, 2015. While the capsule was recovered safely, the propulsion stage was lost due to a loss of pressurization.

New Shepard 2 (NS2), the second full-scale prototype, first flew in November 2015 and completed four successful flight tests before being retired after its final flight on October 5, 2016. The flight test regimen included tests of off-nominal deployment of the parachutes, a launch abort, and reentry and vertical soft landings from altitudes as high as 330,000 feet (100.5 km). NS2 is expected to become a museum exhibit. Blue Origin expect to conduct further testing of the next version of New Shepard beginning in 2017.

Vehicle Capability/Description

New Shepard is a 60-foot (18.3-meter) tall single-stage suborbital vehicle powered by a single Blue Origin BE-3 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine producing 110,000 pounds (489.3 kN) of thrust in vacuum.

While Blue Origin has not released detailed specifications for New Shepard, it does advertise that the large-windowed, 530-cubic foot (X cubic meter) crew capsule will be capable of carrying up to six passengers.

Mission Profile

The vehicle lifts off from Blue Origin’s facility in West Texas and accelerates up to Mach 3 before reaching main engine cutoff and capsule separation. The capsule continues on a ballistic trajectory, providing the passengers or scientific payload(s) several minutes of freefall before reentry and safe landing on the ground via parachute. In the event of a booster failure, the crew capsule has a 70,000-pound (311 kN) thrust solid rocket motor.

Following capsule separation, the booster is allowed to fall back to Earth. According to Blue Origin, “As the rocket reenters the atmosphere, air flows through a ring at the top of the booster, passively directing the center of pressure to help control descent. Four wedge-shaped fins also deploy to further enhance aerodynamic stability.” Additionally, the booster deploys eight large drag brakes, reducing the vehicle’s speed to half the speed of sound before the main engine reignites.

Landing tail first, the engine gimbals to ensure that the rocket soft lands back at Blue Origin’s property safely. Near touchdown, a set of four legs deploy for landing. The vehicle is then shut down and safed before being returned for recycling.

Vehicle Status

New Shepard’s NS2 test vehicle has been retired after five successful flight tests. Another vehicle is in production to conduct future testing.

Blue Origin is in the process of building a manufacturing plant for producing orbital launch vehicles just outside the main gate of Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The company plans to launch these vehicles (“New Glenn”) from Space Launch Complex 36.


Launch History
Status Operational
Launch sites Corn Ranch, Van Horn, Texas
Total flights 6
Successes 5
Failures NS1 – April 29, 2015
First successful flight April 29, 2015

Passenger flights on New Shepard could start as soon as 2018. Blue Origin also became a launch provider under NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program in June 2016. Blue Origin plans to work with NanoRacks to provide space for suborbital microgravity payloads. The payload lockers will come in “single” and “double” sizes: 25 pounds (11.34 kg) and 1.73 cubic feet (49 liters) or 50 pounds (22.68 kg) and 3.61 ft3 (102 liters). Blue Origin has not disclosed how many of these payloads would be placed on one launch, but a NanoRacks media release indicated that the payloads could be integrated onto a New Shepard flight with as little as four hours’ lead time.

Height 60 feet (18 m)
Diameter 22.9 feet (7 m)
Mass 165,000 pounds (75,000 kg)
Vertical Landing Booster
Manufacturer Blue Origin
Engine BE-3
No. engines 1
Length 15 m
Diameter 7 m
Propellant mass 54,431 kg
Thrust 490 kN
Fuel LH2/LOx
Specific impulse 260 seconds (vacuum)
Burn time 110 seconds