Blue Origin successfully launched a New Shepard rocket to suborbital space from the company's West Texas facility at 10:32 a.m. EDT (1432 GMT). The uncrewed mission is called NS-17. It will mark the 17th flight of Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket-capsule combo, the 4th flight for the program in 2021, and the 8th flight for this particular vehicle.
According to Blue Origin, the NS-17 flight will be used to "test a suite of lunar landing technologies to reduce risk and increase confidence for successful missions to the Moon." This mission will see the New Shepard booster carry a payload in its exterior, the second flight for this experiment.
In more creative news, the rocket will feature three portraits by Ghanaian artist Amoako Boafo painted on the top of the crew capsule on the main chute covers. This is part of the Uplift Aerospace’s Uplift Art Program, "whose purpose is to inspire new ideas and generate dialog by making space accessible and connected to the human experience."
The mission will carry 18 commercial payloads, amongst which will be 11 NASA-sponsored experiments.
The launch comes as news of Blue Origin employees leaving the company has surfaced. CNBC reported that over a dozen engineers resigned from Bezos’s company in recent weeks. Some are even rumored to be leaving for roles at rival spaceflight outfits.
Among those leaving are lead engineer on Blue Origin’s lunar lander program Nitin Arora, ex-NASA astronaut and Blue Origin chief of mission assurance Jeff Ashby, and senior vice president Blue Origin Steve Bennet. The reasons behind this turnover could be because Blue Origin lost out to SpaceX for a key NASA contract to develop a lunar lander for the Artemis program.
The firm is now suing NASA over this decision.