Blue Origin plans high-altitude escape test on launch Wednesday

Blue Origin's New Shepard spaceship on pad

Blue Origin is preparing its New Shepard suborbital spaceship for a test flight that’s expected to push the envelope. More

Blue Origin, the aerospace company backed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, completed a test Wednesday of a new motor during a blastoff from its launchpad in west Texas. Its effectiveness is essential to ensuring the safety of any people who might ride aboard the capsule in the future.

Executives at the company, which was started by Bezos in 2000, said the company planned to launch test flights beginning next year, Reuters reported.

The high-altitude escape motor test is created to simulate what would happen if there was a problem with the launch vehicle during ascent. This propelled the capsule to an altitude of roughly 119 kilometers (74 miles), a record height for the company.

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The escape rocket motor is built into the crew capsule to provide a backup plan in case something goes wrong with New Shepard's booster. The launch, the ninth test flight in the overall New Shepard development program, was announced a day in advance by the company.

While this flight was primarily meant to demonstrate the vehicle's escape system, the crew capsule carried eight research and technology demonstration payloads, similar to what the vehicle has done on previous suborbital test flights. Unlike NASA's Mercury and Apollo spacecraft, which jettisoned their escape rockets before reaching orbit, Blue Origin's is built into the capsule.

New Shepard's reusable booster comes in for a landing.

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Eventually, up to six passengers at a time could get on board the New Shepard spaceship, which flies under autonomous control. The company has not said what the price of the tickets would be. "It's coming", she said.

Cornell didn't offer a timetable for crewed flights beyond "soon" during the webcast but said they could begin "after a couple more tests".

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. The hardware used in previous tests has been retired and put on exhibit at Blue Origin's Florida rocket factory, where the orbital-class New Glenn rocket will be built. The New Glenn will compete with United Launch Alliance's upcoming Vulcan rocket and with SpaceX boosters in the USA launch market.

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