The private spaceflight company, which is run by billionaire Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, conducted a critical "in-flight escape test" of its crew-carrying New Shepard system today (Oct. 5) - and everything appears to have worked just as expected.
In what the company hopes will be its fourth successful test flight this year, Blue Origin is preparing for a crucial in-flight abort test of its new pusher abort system that's created to safely separate the New Shepherd crew capsule from the New Shepard booster in the event of an anomaly during powered flight.
The booster continued its flight, then hit its maximum altitude and touched down on the ground about seven-and-a-half minutes after the launch.
A long-dormant launch pad, Space Launch Complex 11, will get an overhaul by the company to support future launches here.
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Thrusters on Blue Origin's New Shepard crew capsule kick up dust as the spacecraft touches down under parachutes. However, after the capsule separated, the booster righted itself in flight, then turned and headed back to earth.
Just over seven minutes after leaving the launchpad, New Shepard made a ideal landing. Blue Origin has not yet set a price for its space trips but a competitor, Virgin Galactic, is selling tickets to fly on its six-passenger, two-pilot SpaceShipTwo for $250,000.
The emergency escape procedure is designed for one thing and one thing only: getting the crew capsule away from the booster at all costs.
The test had been delayed by one day due to weather conditions at Blue Origin's launch site in West Texas.
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Wednesday marked this New Shepard rocket booster's fifth and final flight. The motor burned for two seconds and shot the capsule up and away from the rocket booster.
Bezos said before this week's mission that if the booster did somehow survive, Blue Origin would "reward it for its service with a retirement party and put it in a museum". "Sadly, that's not likely". In a real-life scenario, that would probably because the booster was critically failing.
Once the rocket reached 16,000 feet about 45 seconds after lift-off, Blue Origin triggered an escape command.
The mission was a major success for the Blue Origin team as it confirmed, for the first time, the viability of its capsule escape system. Should New Glenn achieve its objective, it would not only constitute a huge game-changer for the company, but it would also help it reach a new stratum in the space industry. The capsule also had flown before, including a launch pad escape test, minus a rocket, in 2012.
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A successful Antares launch of a Cygnus cargo vehicle is important while SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is grounded after a launch pad explosion on September 1.