Update July 18th, 11:35AM ET: Blue Origin pulled off another successful test launch today, landing both the New Shepard rocket and capsule after flight. The company ignited the capsule’s emergency motor after it had separated from the rocket, pushing the spacecraft up to a top altitude of around 74 miles — a new record for Blue Origin. The firing also caused the capsule to sustain up to 10 Gs during the test, but Blue Origin host Ariane Cornell said “that is well within what humans can take, especially for such a short spurt of time.”
Blue Origin will be igniting the escape motor on the crew capsule. It’s a small engine located on the bottom of the capsule that can quickly propel the spacecraft up and away from the rocket booster in case there is an emergency during the flight. Blue Origin tested out this motor once before during a test launch in October 2016, fully expecting the motor to destroy the booster. When the motor ignites, it slams the booster with 70,000 pounds of thrust and forceful exhaust. And yet, the booster survived the test, managing to land on the floor of the Texas desert.
This time around, Blue Origin plans to ignite the motor at a higher altitude than last time, “pushing the rocket to its limits,” according to the company. It’s unclear how high the ignition will occur, though, and if the booster will survive the test again.
No passengers will be flying on this trip, except for Blue Origin’s test dummy, which the company has named Mannequin Skywalker. Mannequin will be riding inside the crew capsule along with numerous science experiments from NASA, commercial companies, and universities. Santa Fe company Solstar, which flew with Blue Origin during its last launch, is going to test out its Wi-Fi access again during the flight. NASA will have a payload designed to take measurements of the conditions inside the capsule throughout the trip, such as temperature, pressure, and acoustics. There’s even a bunch of payloads made by Blue Origin’s employees as part of the company’s own “Fly My Stuff” program.
Isn’t it refreshing to see a private space programme that not only doesn’t crash and explode all the time (*cough* Elon) but works better than expected!