On Wednesday, Blue Origin executed a perfect test of the in-flight escape mechanism that’s part of the crew capsule version of its New Shepard launch system — a critical milestone for the company’s plans to send humans to space. Just a day later, company CEO Jeff Bezos and his team posted a short video of that test in slow motion, and it looks absolutely amazing.
Tuesday’s demonstration was a win in more than just one way. The crew capsule was safely jettisoned from the blazed rocket, but the booster rocket — which was not supposed to survive the test — survived the test, miraculously. It was the same booster that has been flown up in the air and successfully landed back on the ground four times over.
The slow motion video provides a better view of the crew capsule being ejected from the rocket before the damn thing goes up in flames. The capsule’s escape mechanism works through a motor that slams the booster with about 70,000 pounds of force through hot exhaust, forcing the capsule off the booster. The booster speeds off into the sky to get a safe distance away from the crew capsule, while the crew capsule itself is steered back towards Earth.
As Bezos points out on Twitter, all of this occurred at Max Q — the point where aerodynamics stress on a vehicle is at its zenith. This is critical for spaceflight — emergency safety mechanisms have to be able to occur even during the most stressful portions of a space launch. If they fall short, you can’t guarantee the safety of any humans going up into orbit or beyond.
The recovered booster won’t be flown again, but Blue Origin will be quickly moving on to ensuring that other versions of its New Shepard vehicle are ready to start taking actual astronauts into space soon enough.