“New Shepard” completed its first test flight on November 13th, 2006. Weighing 54 tons, the 15 m (49 ft.) high, 7 m (23 ft.) diameter bullet-shaped demonstrator – was powered by nine engines using high test peroxide (HTP) and RP-1 kerosene fuel. The test flight lasted about 40 seconds and New Shepard reached an altitude of about 85 m (285 ft.) and then landed in the same spot.
Further development flights planned for the next three years will gradually witness improvements of the vehicle’s maximum altitude to as much as 100 km (328,00 ft.). A commercial version of the vehicle that would take three or more space tourists for an autonomously controlled, 10 min., sub-orbital ride in which they could view the curvature of the Earth is anticipated to be ready around 2010.
New Shepard is actually based in part on an older Department of Defense (DOD) and later NASA experimental vehicle called DC-X built by McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing) that was tested during the early 1990s. The shape of New Shepard is shorter and thicker than the DC-X, mainly due to their different functions. While the DOD wanted a highly maneuverable vehicle that would be launched into a polar orbit, New Shepard is a passenger/cargo vehicle with far less need for maneuverability and an east-bound trajectory using the earth’s natural rotation.