Blue Origin launched its reusable New Shepard suborbital spacecraft on a third test flight on Saturday, April 2, 2016. The unmanned capsule left the discernible atmosphere for a few minutes before a parachute descent to the launch site in West Texas, USA.
The New Shepard booster plunged back to Earth tail first and re-ignited its hydrogen-fueled engine at an altitude of just 3,635ft. Four landing legs deployed while the engine quickly throttled up, allowing the rocket to settle to a successful touchdown.
In a deliberate test, the late engine restart braking maneuver began just six seconds before the rocket would otherwise have crashed into the ground.
Blue Origin reports the capsule reached a maximum altitude of 64.2 miles, two miles above the generally accepted-if-somewhat-arbitrary altitude that defines the transition from atmospheric flight to space flight.
The reusable New Shepard booster and capsule are designed to lift six passengers at a time on suborbital up-and-down flights out of the discernible atmosphere. Once separated from the booster, crew cabin occupants will experience about four minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth.
The same booster and capsule were test launched in November 2015 and in January this year. An initial test flight in 2014 successfully boosted the capsule to the desired altitude, but a booster malfunction prevented a successful touchdown.
A fully reusable launch vehicle and crew capsule are critical to Blue Origin’s plans to launch tourists on fast-turnaround suborbital flights starting in about two years, or sooner, depending on the progress of testing. The company plans dozens of test flights this year and in 2017 to demonstrate reliability and reusability.
Click here to watch a video of the New Shepard test flight.
April 8, 2016