Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin team tested the New Shepard rocket’s capsule escape system this week, and the entire procedure ran like clockwork.
In dramatic fashion, and precisely according to plan, the New Shepard’s unmanned crew capsule blasted away from the main booster with phenomenal force 45 seconds after launch, at an altitude of 16,000 feet. If future crew or space tourists ever have to experience the emergency escape, they’re in for quite a ride.
“There it is, 70,000 pounds of thrust pushing that crew capsule at 400 mph,” the commentator said during Tuesday’s live-stream as the capsule hurtled at breakneck speed away from the New Shepard.
The capsule, still traveling at enormous speed, swayed from side to side for a few seconds before stabilizing. Then, as it began to fall back to Earth, the first set of its parachutes deployed to bring it gently home.
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) October 5, 2016
Once the capsule was safely back on terra firma, attention turned to the New Shepard. Having survived the massive blast from the crew capsule upon separation, was it still in good enough shape to land back at base like it has done on four previous missions? You bet it was.
Just over seven minutes after leaving the launchpad, New Shepard made a perfect landing.
The mission was a major success for the Blue Origin team as it confirmed, for the first time, the viability of its capsule escape system.
Prior to the mission, Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos said it was so tricky he expected the New Shepard would end up slamming into the desert floor and exploding. But he couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.
The crew capsule, part of Blue Origin’s reusable rocket system, is able to hold up to six people and is on course to take paying passengers to the edge of space – around 62 miles (100 km) above Earth’s surface – within the next couple of years.
The New Shepard won’t be taking any humans skyward, though. Bezos said before this week’s mission that if the booster did somehow survive, Blue Origin would “reward it for its service with a retirement party and put it in a museum.” That should be some party.
Check out the dramatic emergency crew capsule test in the video above. The action kicks off around the 1hr 6min mark.