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Blue Origin booster lands successfully after in-flight escape test

Blue Origin’s New Shepherd rocket has touched back down safely after it was jostled by the launch of the flight escape system during a test run as part of its latest firing. This was far from expected, with CEO Jeff Bezos claiming beforehand that the test would likely cripple or destroy the booster.

Although flight escape systems are very rarely used, they are an incredibly important part of any rocket system. The idea is that should a malfunction, explosion or rapid unplanned disassembly occur during a manned mission, the escape system would launch the crew capsule far from harm, far too quickly for anything to impact it.

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That part of this test went off without a hitch, but because of the very nature of such a system, the booster rocket the capsule is attached too is not a priority. Even if the cause of the escape engagement wasn’t due to the rocket exploding, the forces generated by its rapid thrust (70, 000 pounds of it) away from the main rocket was expected to destroy the booster, but it did nothing of the sort.

Before the mission took place, Jeff Bezos said that should the New Shepherd rocket survive separation and could be landed once again, that it would be interred as a historic piece of equipment, since this would be the fifth time it had successfully touched down. And it did, so now it will be.

The crew capsule is jettisoned from the main body using a compact, but powerful solid rocket booster, which burns for just enough time to get it clear of any potential explosion or debris from a damaged New Shepherd rocket. It then fell back to earth using parachutes to slow its decent, before touching down. We have previously seen tests completed whereby only two of the parachutes deployed, but using a compression ring and a retro thrust system to slow them at the final moment of impact.

Moving forward, Blue Origin plans more tests and the first manned flight in 2017, before a potential commercial launch of the program in 2018, allowing tourists to head out of Earth’s atmosphere for far cheaper than ever before. This New Shepherd booster though will head into a museum, where it will serve as a reminder of early successes.

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KitGuru Says: It’s great to see a program like this being so successful. It’s not on the scale of what Space X is trying to do, but it’s a great start and is likely to be the only way many of us will ever be able to afford to at least get a glimpse of outer space. 

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