The launch window for the 15th New Shepard test flight open on April 14, 9 a.m. EST. This particular test, aptly named NS-15, will serve as a verification step for the vehicle and its operations before flying astronauts into suborbital space. Blue origin will use the opportunity to conduct operational astronaut exercises – no, the spacecraft will not actually have humans on board when it takes off, but company personnel will stand as astronauts and enter in the capsule before and after the flight.
Prior to launch, the replacement astronauts will climb the launch tower, settle into their seats, buckle up their harnesses, and perform a communication test with the capsule communicator in the command center. The tower operations team will close the capsule hatch with them inside as they prepare the vehicle for launch, but the “astronauts” will exit before New Shepard takes off. Once the reusable vehicle has returned to the ground, personnel will re-enter the capsule to repeat the hatch opening, then exit to the landing site.
Blue Origin has been developing the New Shepard back-up and capsule system for suborbital space tourism since the mid-2000s. The vehicle 14th test flight in January, it was the first time that the company tested its redesigned crew capsule – a six-seater designed to offer the best possible “astronaut experience” – and a booster. At the time, CNBC said the company hopes to complete the first crewed flight in early April. That obviously won’t happen, but you can still watch NS-15 and live footage of its astronaut rehearsal procedures at Blue Origin website.