Blue Origin’s test team has performed an inflight test of the New Shepard capsule’s full-envelope escape system, designed to quickly propel the crew capsule to safety if a problem is detected with the booster.
On October 5, 2016, at T+0:45 and at 16,053ft (4,893m), the capsule separated and the escape motor fired, pushing the capsule safely away from the booster. Reaching an apogee of 23,269ft (7,092m), the capsule then descended under parachutes to a gentle landing on the desert floor in west Texas. After the capsule escape, the booster continued its ascent, reaching an apogee of 307,458ft (93,713m). At T+7:29, the booster executed a controlled, vertical landing back at Blue Origin’s western Texas launch site, completing its fifth and final mission.
“Like Mercury, Apollo and Soyuz, New Shepard has an escape system that can quickly propel the crew capsule to safety if a problem is detected with the booster,” said Blue origin owner Jeff Bezos, speaking before the test.
“Our escape system, however, is configured differently from those earlier designs. They mounted the escape motor on a tower above the capsule – a ‘tractor’ configuration – [and]the escape motor would pull the capsule away from a failing booster. But because a capsule cannot re-enter Earth’s atmosphere or deploy parachutes with a tower on top, the tower, along with the escape motor, must be jettisoned on every flight – even the nominal flights. Expending an escape motor on every flight drives up costs significantly. Further, the jettison operation is itself safety critical. Failure to jettison the tower is catastrophic.
“The New Shepard escape motor pushes rather than pulls and is mounted underneath the capsule rather than on a tower. There is no jettison operation. On a nominal mission, the escape motor is not expended and can be flown again and again. We’ve already tested our pusher escape system, including many ground tests and a successful pad escape test, but this flight will be our toughest test yet. We’ll intentionally trigger an escape in flight and at the most stressing condition: maximum dynamic pressure through transonic velocities.”
The New Shepard reusable launch system is a vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing, suborbital manned rocket being developed by Blue Origin as a commercial system for suborbital space tourism. The company aims to send test pilots into space on the New Shepard at some point next year.
Watch the successful escape system test, here.
October 7, 2016