Blue Origin has successfully staged a critical in-flight escape test of its New Shepard, a spacecraft that consists of reusable rocket and capsule that the private company is developing to ferry people and scientific experiments to and from suborbital space.
In a simulated launch emergency conducted in West Texas on Wednesday, Oct. 5, the spaceflight company successfully tested New Shepard's escape system, a feature designed to save future passengers onboard the vehicle in case the rocket would suffer a major failure during flight.
About 45 seconds after takeoff at an altitude of 16,000 feet, the capsule fired the escape motor for 2 seconds and then blasted itself away from the rest of the rocket. The unmanned vehicle then deployed three parachutes and gently settled on the ground in a convincing demonstration of how its critical safety system would work in the event a real-life launch emergency happens.
About three minutes later, the booster also came down landing vertically on the launch pad, which surprised onlookers. Jeff Bezos earlier predicted that the booster would likely crash-land, citing that the thrust from the escape motor would overwhelm the rocket's flight control system.
"This test will probably destroy the booster," Bezos earlier wrote about what he described as the toughest test his company would conduct so far.
"The booster was never designed to survive an in-flight escape. The capsule escape motor will slam the booster with 70,000 pounds of off-axis force delivered by searing hot exhaust. The aerodynamic shape of the vehicle quickly changes from leading with the capsule to leading with the ring fin, and this all happens at maximum dynamic pressure."
The booster, however, continued to climb after the escape system was set off and eventually landed back to the ground. The smooth landing is just icing on the cake since the only objective of the test was to recover the crew capsule.
The flight, the fifth and last flight for this particular rocket, would still have been considered as successful even if the booster crashed.
The company, owned by Amazon.com founder Bezos, already tested the escape system several times on the ground. It even used the escape motor during a pad escape test conducted in West Texas on October 2012.
"What an extraordinary test, and a tremendous final flight for both craft," said launch commentator Ariane Cornell. "As we very optimistically aimed for, our crew capsule successfully executed its in-flight escape test, and the booster brilliantly continued to space and came home for a fifth landing."