Blue Origin subjects its rocket to high-altitude escape test

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Blue Origin completed the ninth flight of its New Shepard rocket Wednesday, wrapping up another test of the vehicle's escape system as the company works toward its first human space flight as soon as this year.

The New Shepard reusable rocket lifted off from the Washington-based company's suborbital facility in Van Horn, Texas, about 10 a.m. Once it reached the threshold of space, the capsule fired its motors, shooting it away from the booster in a maneuver the company said would "push the rocket to its limits".

The solid-fuel "pusher" abort motor, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne with subsystems provided by Blue Origin, is created to quickly ignite on command from flight controllers or an on-board computer if safety software detects an impending booster malfunction, rapidly propelling the capsule and its crew away from the rocket with a jarring burst of acceleration.

Accompanying the dummy aboard the capsule were NASA atmospheric science experiments and payloads from paying customers.

While this flight was primarily meant to demonstrate the vehicle's escape system, the crew capsule carried eight research and technology demonstration payloads, similar to what the vehicle has done on previous suborbital test flights.

During the launch, Blue Origin engineers were looking for the "red line" on that system, company spokesperson Ariane Cornell said on a webcast during the run-up to the launch, comparing it to the high-stress tests that cars and airplanes undergo before being put on sale.

With its booster on its landing pad in the background, the New Shepard crew capsule descends to touchdown after its dramatic test flight.

The testing on Flight 9 will once again focus on the safety systems.

After launch, the reusable New Shepard booster will climb to an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers), the internationally-approved boundary of space, and then proceed to land nearby.

Blue Origin has yet to announce when it will start selling tickets or how much flights will cost.

The launch was webcast live on Blue Origin's website.

However, Blue Origin rebuked the amount in a statement. "It's coming", she said.

For Wednesday's flight, the spacecraft was loaded with a variety of experiments, including instrumentation provided by NASA to measure pressure, acoustics, acceleration and other factors, a WiFi experiment, a study of how fine particles interact in random collisions and another NASA experiment to learn more about how water droplets behave in microgravity.

If all goes well, the demonstration may well see Blue Origin closer to flying people on brief trips to space.

LC-11 will be used to test fire New Glenn engines, while LC-36 will be the launch site for the orbital rocket that is being placed to take on other vehicles in its class, such as those from SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.

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