On October 5, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket performed an in-flight test of the capsule’s full-envelope escape system, designed to quickly propel the crew capsule to safety if a problem is detected with the booster. The test flight represents the fifth launch of the booster and crew capsule. Both the booster and capsule were successfully reused after the first four launches.
Liftoff occurred at 11:36 a.m. EDT, following about a half-hour delay for an unspecified problem. At T+0:45 and 16,053 feet (4,893 m), the capsule separated and the escape motor fired, pushing the capsule safely away from the booster. Reaching an apogee of 23,269 feet (7,092 m), the capsule then descended under parachutes to a gentle landing on the desert floor.
After the capsule escape, the booster continued its ascent, reaching an apogee of 307,458 feet (93,713 m). At T+7:29, the booster executed a controlled, vertical landing back at the West Texas launch site, completing its fifth and final mission. This was one of the most surprising parts of the flight, because the booster was not expected to survive the force created by the separation. However, even though the booster did survive, it will not be reused following this flight.
The test was an important one for Blue Origin, which wants to send human explorers into space. In order to do that, it will need to ensure that its New Shepard can keep crew and passengers safe even in the event of a launch failure.
Blue Origin is one of a group of companies working to develop rockets that can carry paying passengers into space. Overall, companies in that field have faced years of setbacks. XCOR Aerospace, for example, recently lost many of its executive team and is no longer focusing on developing an entire launch system. Virgin Galactic remains committed to developing its SpaceShipTwo, but has suffered from years of delays.
Blue Origin hopes to succeed where these other companies have failed by slowly and steadily developing new technology. In fact, the company embellished the New Shepard booster with stenciled tortoises to represent winning the race through slow but steady progress. Amazon and Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos’ deep pockets certainly help as well.
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