Blue Origin sends New Shepard space capsule to its highest altitude yet

Rocket company Blue Origin completed its eighth successful test mission on Sunday, April 29, taking the New Shepard capsule to its highest altitude to date.

Owned by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin launched its reusable sub-orbital rocket from its spaceport in the west Texas desert, with the ascent taking the capsule to 351,000 feet (66 miles, 107 kilometers) above the surface of Earth — some four miles higher than previous launches.

Following the pattern of previous tests, the capsule separated from the top of the rocket at an altitude of just under 50 miles, with the capsule continuing on to its record altitude. Both returned safely to terra firma a short while later — the capsule using parachutes, the rocket using its boosters for a perfect touchdown. The entire event, from launch to landing, took just over 10 minutes.

In a livestream of Sunday’s event (above), Blue Origin’s Ariane Cornell described the launch and landings as “another spectacular test mission.”

This was the second outing for Blue Origin’s latest crew capsule 2.0, following a flawless debut mission in December last year.

The company’s short-term goal is to offer high-paying tourists once-in-a-lifetime trips to the edge of space, where they’ll be able to view the curvature of Earth while floating around in a weightless environment for up to five minutes.

Sunday’s mission carried a number of payloads from a range of users, among them NASA’s Johnson Space Center, which sent instruments to collect capsule environmental data linked to CO2, pressure, acceleration, and acoustics. Another comprised technology to test the concept of providing Wi-Fi access for crewed missions, though if the capsule’s occupants are keen to check their Instagram rather than marvel at the view below, then there’s something seriously wrong.

Bezos said at the 2016 Space Symposium event in Colorado Springs that those inside the capsule will be able to “get out, float around, do somersaults, enjoy the microgravity, [and] look out of those beautiful windows,” adding that training for the experience would be “relatively simple.”

Blue Origin’s “Mannequin Skywalker” was also on board. The dummy made its debut flight last December to highlight the new capsule, as well as to show future space tourists how they’ll be positioned during the start and finish of a flight. This time, Mannequin Skywalker was performing “astronaut telemetry and science studies,” the company noted.

On Sunday, Blue Origin said its latest successful mission takes it another step toward its first human spaceflight tests, which it hopes can take place later this year.

Emerging Tech

NASA’s space observatory will map the sky with unprecedented detail

NASA is preparing to launch a cutting-edge space observatory to create the most detailed map ever produced of the sky. Doing so will involve surveying hundreds of millions of galaxies. Here's how it plans to do it.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s MAVEN orbiter has a new job as a communication relay for Mars 2020

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter has been collecting atmospheric readings but now is taking on a new job as a data relay satellite for the Mars 2020 mission that launches next year.
Emerging Tech

After a record-setting 15 years, NASA ends Opportunity rover’s tour of Mars

NASA has officially called it quits on its record-setting Mars rover Opportunity, eight months after last hearing from the lander. The Rover landed on the Red Planet in early 2004.
Home Theater

Everything to know about Sling TV: Channels, pricing, and more

Sling TV has grown a great deal since its launch. Now there are more channels and more packages to chose from, with prices to match, and more is being added all the time. Everything you need to know is right here.
Emerging Tech

A river of stars one billion years old flows across the southern sky

Astronomers have identified a river of stars flowing across our galaxy and covering most of the southern sky. The estimated 4000 stars that comprise the stream were born together and have been moving together for the last one billion years.
Emerging Tech

Descending at an angle could be key to landing heavier craft on Mars

Landing on Mars is a challenge: The heavier the craft, the more difficult a safe landing becomes. Scientists propose using retropropulsion engines and angling the craft to create a pressure differential to land heavier crafts in the future.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Ant-inspired walking robot navigates without GPS by using polarized light

What do you get if you cross Boston Dynamics and Ant-Man? You get Antbot, a robot from the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) which uses ant-like navigation to move around without the aid of GPS.
Emerging Tech

InSight’s heat probe will dig 16 feet beneath the surface of Mars

New images from NASA's InSight mission to Mars have confirmed that the lander succeeded in setting the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package instrument onto the surface, from where a self-hammering spike will burrow downwards.
Emerging Tech

White spots on Ceres are evidence of ancient ice volcanoes erupting

Scientists are pouring over data collected by NASA's Dawn mission to learn about the dwarf planet Ceres and the bright white spots observed at the bottom of impact craters. They believe that these spots are evidence of ice volcanoes.
Emerging Tech

NASA to launch SPHEREx mission to investigate the origins of our universe

NASA is launching an ambitious mission to map the entire sky to understand the origins of the universe. The Spectro-Photometer for the History of the Universe, Epoch of Reionization and Ices Explorer (SPHEREx) mission will launch in 2023.
Emerging Tech

Probes exploring Earth’s hazardous radiation belts enter final phase of life

The Van Allen probes have been exploring the radiation belts around Earth for seven years. Now the probes are moving into the final phase of their exploration, coming closer to Earth to gather more data before burning up in the atmosphere.
Emerging Tech

How can digital art created on obsolete platforms be preserved?

As the lines between art and technology continue to blur, digital art experiences become more commonplace. But these developments are raising an important question for art conservationists: How should digital artworks be preserved?
Emerging Tech

Statistician raises red flag about reliability of machine learning techniques

Machine learning is everywhere in science and technology. But how reliable are these techniques really? A statistician argues that questions of accuracy and reproducibility of machine learning have not been fully addressed.