Blue Origin, a rocket and spaceflight company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, has successfully completed their first ever airborne test of their rocket’s emergency escape system. The test was immediately hailed as a success, garnering congratulations from NASA and others.
The rocket was named the New Shepard after the first American in space, Alan Shepard.
Blue Origin is working to reduce the cost of space tourism by using reusable rockets. This was a test of the emergency escape system, intended for use if a future manned mission is ever endangered by other malfunctions. In the case of a life-threatening emergency, the crew capsule is designed to use its own rocket engine to distance itself from the booster. The capsule would then release parachutes for a stable and slow descent.
Engineers were unsure that the booster could withstand the violent separation of the capsule, but Wednesday’s test, performed over Texas desert, proved otherwise. Launched just after 10:30am local time, the rocket soared to 16,000 feet before controllers triggered the escape mechanism. At that altitude, the rocket had reached ‘maximum Q’ at which point aerodynamic stress reaches its highest point. Cameras from the ground captured the separation, as the capsule blasted free from the booster, propelled by its own fiery blast. Soon after, it released red and blue parachutes, and landed at roughly 3 miles per hour on the earth below, kicking up a cloud of dust. The booster continued towards space before falling back to the ground on its own planned trajectory. The rocket survived, though singed by the rocket from the capsule.
Engineers had been unsure that the booster could survive the separation, but the test showed that it was able to continue on its path toward space, even after withstanding the fiery separation. The booster withstood 70,000 pounds of thrust from the capsule’s rocket. It was thought that this might hobble the booster’s ability to make a successful landing.
The test followed a series of previous tests on the ground and launchpad, and proved that the system could work in-flight.
Blue Origin is working to develop the ability to send six passengers to the suborbital edge of space, 62 miles above the surface of the Earth, starting as soon as 2018. Having reached this this altitude, the booster and the manned capsule would return to Earth’s surface separately. The successful test makes Blue Origin’s rocket the first reusable booster rocket in history.