Jeff Bezos’ private space company, Blue Origin, just completed its ninth successful test of the New Shepard launch system, developed with the goal of ferrying passengers to the edge of space and bringing them safely back to Earth.
The company launched and landed its New Shepard rocket and spacecraft without any difficulty, surpassing its previous altitude record by an impressive 12 miles (about 20 kilometers), Ars Technica reports.
Today’s test was meant to assess the crew capsule’s emergency abort procedures at high altitude and saw both rocket and spacecraft touch down without any incident, after the two separated about two minutes and 40 seconds after the rocket launch.
Dubbed Mission 9, the flight test aimed to evaluate the performance of Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard system in yet another extreme scenario, by simulating an emergency escape situation in which the crew capsule had to perform “a high-altitude escape motor test — pushing the rocket to its limits,” the company announced on Twitter on July 17.
The ninth New Shepard test took place on July 18 at Blue Origin’s facilities in West Texas, with the new generation rocket blasting off from its launchpad at 11 a.m. ET.
Three minutes after take-off, the company fired the crew capsule’s emergency motor and saw the spacecraft soar to an altitude of roughly 74 miles (119 kilometers), well above the Karman line, or the widely accepted boundary of space, placed at 62 miles (100 kilometers).
As the Inquisitr previously reported, New Shepard had already gone beyond the Karman line during its previous flight test, carried out earlier this year, on April 29, when the rocket flew to an altitude of almost 66 miles (106 kilometers).
New Shepard aced today’s flight test as well. Both the spacecraft and the rocket landed safely back on Earth, the capsule returning to the ground after 11 minutes of flight.
“Anything could have happened today, and this is the best possible outcome,” Blue Origin the launch commentator Ariane Cornell said during the live webcast of Mission 9, available in the video below and which started airing 20 minutes after the New Shepard was launched.
According to The Verge, the firing of the emergency motor caused the New Shepard crew capsule to sustain up to 10 Gs during today’s test.
“That is well within what humans can take, especially for such a short spurt of time,” said Cornell.
Just like during the previous two test flights, Blue Origin’s test dummy, Mannequin Skywalker, was present on board the crew capsule to do his duty and test out the various forces that passengers would feel during a space ride on the New Shepard 2.0, notes BGR.
Aside from Mannequin Skywalker, the New Shepard spacecraft carried a payload of science experiments from NASA, commercial firms, and universities, as well as cargo sent up the company’s own personnel as part of the “Fly My Stuff” program — all detailed on the Blue Origin website in the Mission 9 cargo manifest.
For instance, NASA flew an experiment designed to measure the conditions inside the crew capsule during the flight test, whereas Santa Fe company Solstar, which also had cargo on New Shepard’s Mission 8, tested out its Wi-Fi access during the new mission.
This is the New Shepard’s third suborbital flight test to include commercial payloads, Ars Technica reported prior to the launch, and the second emergency abort test to be carried out on the new launch system. Blue Origin tested the same procedure in October 2016, only the previous emergency motor test was conducted at low altitude.
During that test, the spacecraft’s emergency motor was fired 45 seconds into the flight, at an altitude of 16,000 feet (4,876 meters), slamming the rocket booster with 70,000 pounds of thrust and forceful exhaust. Though the booster wasn’t designed to survive the test, it managed to touch down in the Texas desert. Footage of the 2016 low-altitude emergency abort test is available in the video below.
With this latest success, Blu Origin is inching its way until its first crewed test flight, which the company expects to take place later this year, after a “couple more tests,” noted Cornell.
“We’ll test the ever-living daylights out of the vehicle before ever putting a human on it,” Bezos was quoted saying in 2016. “One of the things I feel very, very strongly about is if you want to get good at spaceflight you have to practice.”
Blue Origin is expecting to give the start of commercial flights with the New Shepard as early as 2019 and already plans to begin selling tickets to space tourists next year, as reported by the Inquisitr.