The New Shepard rocket during an emergency abort test

Blue Origin succeeds by landing New Shepard rocket after escape system test

Image credit: Reuters

A Blue Origin test has exceeded expectations of the company’s engineers after the New Shepard rocket successfully landed following an escape system demonstration.

Blue Origin, which demonstrated the first successful rocket landing in November 2015, said they had expected the rocket to crash after the challenging test.

The experiment saw a capsule positioned atop the rocket detach after a simulated fault was detected by the booster.

The capsule – which is to be used for future space tourists – separated 45 seconds after launch at the altitude of 4,893 metres. The capsule’s escape motor fired for 1.8 seconds and pushed it swiftly away from the booster. The capsule then flew up to 7,000 metres and subsequently descended using parachutes, while the booster performed a flawless vertical landing 3.2 km away from the launch pad in West Texas.

Blue Origin said it was the fifth successful consecutive landing of that particular booster, which will now be retired.

“That’s one hell of a booster,” Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos, who also owns Amazon, said on Twitter following the test.

The firm’s engineers expected that only the capsule would survive, proving to the world that the system is on the right track to eventual safe journeys of space tourists to the edge of space. The team thought exhaust from the capsule’s motor would tip over the rocket, which would then crash in the desert.

Blue Origin aims to start commercial space tourism operations by 2018. The New Shepard launcher is designed to propel the passenger-carrying capsule to the altitude of 100 km, which is considered the edge of space. There, the paying travellers would experience several minutes of weightlessness before descending back to the Earth. From this altitude, the planet can be observed against the blackness of space. 

Blue Origin, which is set to compete with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic over the space tourism market, has not yet announced the price of its suborbital flights. A seat on Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo costs $250,000 (£197,000). 

Blue Origin is working on a larger orbital rocket, called New Glenn, that will compete against Elon Musk’s SpaceX and other companies for commercial satellite launches and human space transportation services.

Bezos, who has invested $500m into Blue Origin, doesn’t dream of going to Mars like his rival SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, but hopes the development of cheap space transportation and more power launchers will allow heavy industry to be moved into orbit, freeing the Earth for more enjoyable life in the future.

The owner of Blue Origin said he will continue funding the project as long as necessary.   

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