Published: Thu, July 19, 2018
Research | By Clarence Powell

Blue Origin's New Shepard Vehicle Aces Test of Crew-Escape Motor

Blue Origin's New Shepard Vehicle Aces Test of Crew-Escape Motor

Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin launched its ninth New Shepard rocket mission today at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT; 10 a.m. CDT), an hour later than first indicated, from the firm's launch site in Van Horn, Texas. Blue Origin accomplished a low-altitude abort test with a previous version of the New Shepard vehicle in October 2016, proving the capsule's solid-fueled abort motor could get passengers away from a catastrophic in-flight failure.

The high-altitude escape motor test is created to simulate what would happen if there was a problem with the launch vehicle during ascent.

The reusable New Shepard booster is created to take off from a launch pad, climb to the internationally-recognized boundary of space at an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers), and land nearby with rocket thrust and aerobrakes.

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.

As it continues to progress toward human flights, Blue Origin will perform another potentially unsafe uncrewed test today of its New Shepard rocket and spacecraft. One company sent up a system created to provide reliable WiFi connectivity in space, while another added a number of textiles to the capsule so they could test their viability for use in space suits. Unlike NASA's Mercury and Apollo spacecraft, which jettisoned their escape rockets before reaching orbit, Blue Origin's is built into the capsule.

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"It's an important step in our march in flying humans into space", Ariane Cornell, the Blue Origin launch broadcaster, said prior to the launch.

Although Blue Origin is yet to provide details, it is understood the company has already purchased the first landing ship for returning New Glenn boosters.

During the test flight, the rocket was loaded up with both the Blue Origin test dummy - nicknamed Mannequin Skywalker, which took its third flight to space today - and a host of science payloads.

Strapped into reclining seats at launch, the New Shepard passengers will be able to unstrap and briefly float about the cabin near the top of its trajectory when they will experience five to six minutes of weightlessness and enjoy the view from the largest windows ever built into an operational spacecraft. "We have not set ticket pricing and have had no serious discussions inside of Blue on the topic", said the statement.

Blue Origin's New Shepard booster on its launch pad in West Texas. "We're going to be firing it in the vacuum of space for the first time", Cornell said. "At Blue Origin, we're all about safety", she said. The company says more than 700 people have signed up to fly. Those missions will rely on the bigger, more powerful New Glenn rocket still under development.

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