WATCH: Blue Origin Aces Crucial In-Flight Escape Test, Lands Rocket and Capsule Safely
Good news! Blue Origin has passed the crucial in-flight escape test for its New Shepard system. New Shepard, which consisted of a reusable rocket and a capsule, blasted off from Blue Origin's test range in West Texas on Oct. 5.
About 45 seconds into flight and at an altitude of 16,000 feet, the capsule separated from the rocket and ignited its onboard escape motor for about 1.8 seconds. As planned, the capsule landed safely under parachutes in the Texas dessert, while the booster, which continued up into space after it separated from the capsule, flew back and touched down vertically on the launch pad, Reuters reports.
The New Shepard spacecraft was designed to fly tourists to suborbital space 62 miles above Earth to experience microgravity and view the curvature of the planet. The test demonstrates how the manned capsule could escape and fly away from the rocket in the event of an emergency.
The company, which is run by billionaire and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, had already conducted the same test multiple times, although they were done while the capsule was resting on the launchpad. In October 2012, the company also used the escape motor to launch the New Shepard capsule during a pad escape test in Texas.
According to Bezos, this test is the toughest trial to date. "The high acceleration portion of the escape lasts less than 2 seconds, but by then the capsule will be hundreds of feet away and diverging quickly," Bezos wrote in a blog. "It will traverse twice through transonic velocities - the most difficult control region - during the acceleration burn and subsequent deceleration."
The success of the test was a surprise, as Bezos expected it to be a fiery destruction for the rocket. He wrote in a blog that the thrust from the escape motor could knock the rocket off, causing it to crash in a massive explosion.
The test marks the fifth and final flight for New Shepard's rocket. Blue Origin has successfully launched and landed this particular rocket for four times already.
Starting with New Shepard, Blue Origin is continuously learning the ropes in developing and launching reusable spacecraft. According to the company, crewed test flights could start as early as next year. The spacecraft could carry six passengers and they could start boarding in as early as 2018.
The company also revealed the design of its monster rocket, New Glenn, which will compete with SpaceX's Falcon 9 and launch cargo and people into orbit. It is also working on a larger rocket, the New Armstrong, which will take humans to Mars.