Blue Origin launched the New Shepard into suborbital space on Saturday, according to Jeff Bezos, founder of the private space company. The vehicle has carried to space a scientific experiment made by students at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and came back to earth, performing a successful vertical landing.
The New Shepard system is a fully reusable vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) space vehicle, says Blu Origin in its official website. Reusability is what makes this project different since it is designed to go to space and return to Earth, which could reduce development costs and make space exploration more affordable.
The UCF was selected by Blue Origin six years ago, to send an experiment to space aboard the New Shepard. A team led by Physics Professor Joshua Colwell watched on Saturday the launch and return of the spacecraft, that took place in Texas.
Microgravity Experiment on Dust Environments in Astrophysics (MEDEA)
Professor Colwell alongside undergraduate students, designed an experiment to take a deeper look at the process in which space dust builds up to form planets or rings around those planets, said the UCF in a statement.
“We have been waiting for this day for a long time. A lot of talented students have helped make this happen. I’m just thrilled that we’re going to get data back immediately after flight and get a look at the strange behavior of dust in a microgravity space environment.” He added.
MEDEA will also provide new data about how dust can behave on the surface of asteroids that will be explored by future NASA robotic missions. UCF added that students who participated in the experiment are already working in the commercial space industry.
On the other hand, Blue Origin wants to demonstrate that the New Shepard can effectively carry payloads into space, return to Earth and be used again, as a previous step for taking humans to space.
Dr. Erika Wagner, Blue Origin head of payload programs, explained that some questions about the early solar system and asteroids can only be answered by conducting experiments into space, like the MEDEA.
“Suborbital spaceflight opens the door for an incredible range of scientific research and technology development, from biotech and materials science to fluid physics and engineering,” she added in a press release published on Sunday.
Democratic space technology? The New Shepard is the “first step toward millions of people living and working in space”
The New Shepard can carry hundreds of pounds of payloads per flight. However, the main objective of the project is to take humans to space to altitudes beyond 62 miles, which is the boundary of space. Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson has remarked that he sees a future where thousands of people will be living in space.
The company owned by Jeff Bezos, who is also the owner of Amazon.com, is currently developing new capsules that will carry up to six astronauts to space. They will be able to look at the Earth and the black skies of space across huge windows that will be at the side of each of them, before coming back to the United States.
Mr. Bezos added that the first commercial flights could start in 2018 since Blue Origin has planned to build six New Shepard vehicles. However, he has not confirmed yet prices of the tickets and exact launching dates.
The New Shepard Saturday’s journey lasted 11 minutes since it was launched until it came back to Texas, performing a successful “touchdown”, as Mr. Bezos said on Twitter. The company will release videos of the mission as soon as they are processed.