Blue Origin has now tested its powerful escape system at low, mid level and high altitudes, building confidence the spacecraft and its eventual passengers can, in fact, survive a catastrophic in-fight booster failure.
A team of engineers in West Texas is preparing Blue Origin's suborbital New Shepard booster for launch Wednesday on an uncrewed test flight aimed at demonstrating a key safety feature for space tourists and scientists riding on future rockets soaring to the edge of space. The rocket performed a "high altitude escape motor test", the company said on Twitter, simulating a high-altitude emergency scenario by igniting the escape booster on the bottom of the passenger, or in this case, payload capsule.
Although there weren't any people aboard this test flight, Blue Origin's test dummy, Mannequin Skywalker, was strapped in a chair to measure the gravitation forces a real body might experience during a somewhat violent abort. Unlike NASA's Mercury and Apollo spacecraft, which jettisoned their escape rockets before reaching orbit, Blue Origin's is built into the capsule.
LC-11 will be used to test fire New Glenn engines, while LC-36 will be the launch site for the orbital rocket that is being placed to take on other vehicles in its class, such as those from SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. Though, the 10-second countdown begins at around the 35 minute mark.
It's also not yet known how much Blue Origin plans to charge for rides in a New Shepard capsule.
Blue Origin has not started selling tickets for seats on commercial New Shepard flights, but Reuters reported last week the flight opportunities are expected to sell for between $200,000 and $300,000. It's coming, but we've got our eye on the prize, and we've got to make sure we understand our system through and through.
These latest tests were also created to push the booster to its limit, which led to Blue Origin noting the potential they could lose the booster, not least during the focused testing on the escape system, centered around a solid motor firing for two seconds to fly the capsule free of a failing booster. The experiment will record vehicle conditions including cabin pressure, temperature, CO2, acoustic conditions, and acceleration.
Blue Origin views suborbital space tourism as a stepping-stone to much bigger things.
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.