Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin rocket company shot a capsule higher into space Wednesday than it's ever done before. Blue Origin accomplished a low-altitude abort test with a previous version of the New Shepard vehicle in October 2016, proving the capsule's solid-fueled abort motor could get passengers away from a catastrophic in-flight failure. Its effectiveness is essential to ensuring the safety of any people who might ride aboard the capsule in the future.
This is the ninth test of the reusable New Shepard system and the third in which it has included commercial payloads on its short suborbital flights.
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. This propelled the capsule to an altitude of roughly 119 kilometers (74 miles), a record height for the company.
That second flight saw the New Shepard booster lofting its Crew Module to an altitude of 329,839 feet before returning under powered control to an upright landing - marking the first time a suborbital rocket successfully landed after a straight-up/straight-down flight.
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The flight will be Mission 9 for the company, and will feature a "high altitude escape motor test" which the company says will "push the rocket to its limits".
Many have wondered over the last few years how much a ticket on Blue Origin's New Shepard space vehicle will cost.
Unlike SpaceX, which thus far has largely focused on sending cargo into space as opposed to humans, Blue Origin is leading the charge on space tourism and crewed missions.
A sensor-equipped test dummy nicknamed Mannequin Skywalker sat in one of the capsule's seats. "We haven't set a price".
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Blue Origin's New Shepard booster on its launch pad in West Texas. "Just another day at the office", she said.
For Wednesday's flight, the spacecraft was loaded with a variety of experiments, including instrumentation provided by NASA to measure pressure, acoustics, acceleration and other factors, a WiFi experiment, a study of how fine particles interact in random collisions and another NASA experiment to learn more about how water droplets behave in microgravity.
If all goes well, the demonstration may well see Blue Origin closer to flying people on brief trips to space.
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