Successful escape, landing for Blue Origin's rocket

2016-10-05 20:10
In this image made from video provided by Blue Origin, the New Shepard capsule prepares to return to the ground during a test of the escape system in west Texas. (Blue Origin via AP)

In this image made from video provided by Blue Origin, the New Shepard capsule prepares to return to the ground during a test of the escape system in west Texas. (Blue Origin via AP)

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Miami - Blue Origin, the aerospace company headed by chief Jeff Bezos, ran a successful test on Wednesday of an emergency escape function, aimed at saving space travellers' lives in case of catastrophe.

The New Shepard rocket blasted off from a Texas launchpad, then its unmanned capsule separated in mid-air about 45 seconds after lift-off, at a height of about 4 900m.

Powered by an escape motor beneath the capsule, the gumdrop-shaped spacecraft tossed and tumbled a bit before floating back to Earth with the help of parachutes.

"All astronauts on board would have had a pretty exhilarating ride, but a safe ride," said a commentator on Blue Origin's live webcast.

Ahead of the launch, Bezos said the force of the capsule's escape would likely spell the end for the booster, or the portion of the rocket that propels the capsule to space.

"The booster was never designed to survive an in-flight escape," Bezos wrote in a blog post before the launch, noting that prior to Wednesday's launch, the booster had already been flown four times.

"The capsule escape motor will slam the booster with 70 000 pounds (31 700kg) of off-axis force delivered by searing hot exhaust."

However, cheers erupted at mission control as the somewhat scorched and battered looking booster made its way back to Earth as if in reverse, its engines firing as it hovered over the ground and gradually set itself down, upright.

Both Blue Origin and its competitor, SpaceX, are capable of landing their rockets back on land, as part of a larger effort to make rocket parts reusable in the coming years.

Bezos said the company plans a retirement party for the booster, which was Blue Origin's first to fly into space and return for an upright landing, before putting it on display in a museum.

The New Shepard rocket is designed to eventually carry space tourists to the edge of space - defined as the Karman line about 100km above the Earth's sea level - and back, perhaps as early as 2018.

The cost of a ticket has not yet been revealed.

Read more on:    blue origin  |  spacex  |  us  |  space exploration

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