We’re in for a bit of a treat next month because Blue Origin – the company from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos who are trying to advance space tourism – is going to perform a rather daring test of its New Shepard vehicle.
The company is busy developing reusable rockets, and has performed four flights so far. Last November, its New Shepard capsule and rocket became the first vehicle to fly to space and return safely to Earth.
This time around, though, things will be a bit different. New Shepard is intended to eventually take humans on short hops into space, but to do so, it needs to have an escape system for the capsule if the rocket experiences a malfunction during the flight.
That brings us to early October, when this next test flight is taking place. The rocket will launch as normal, but at “Max Q” about 45 seconds after liftoff and 5,000 meters (16,000 feet) high, where the rocket is experiencing maximum pressure during its flight through the atmosphere, the capsule will use an escape motor to separate from the rocket.
If all goes to plan, the unmanned capsule will fire away from the rocket and then safely return to Earth via a parachute – mimicking how a human crew would be saved in a worst-case scenario.
Above is an animation of how it should all play out.
But the rocket itself might not fare so well. In an update via email, Bezos said the test would “probably destroy the booster”. He added: “The booster was never designed to survive an in-flight escape. The capsule escape motor will slam the booster with 70,000 pounds of off-axis force delivered by searing hot exhaust.”
There is a small chance the booster will survive, and if it does, Bezos said they would retire the rocket and put it in a museum. All signs at the moment, though, suggest an explosive finale for this historic machine.
As part of their commitment to being more open, Blue Origin will stream the event live on a webcast, no doubt taking inspiration from the public excitement that surrounds SpaceX launches. We don’t know an exact date for the launch yet, but we’d definitely recommend keeping an eye out when it materializes.