Blue Origin’s New Shepard space system passed another major test on Wednesday: a high-altitude, mission abort trial that saw both its passenger capsule and rocket land safely back on Earth in West Texas. Space tourists take note.
The footage from the launch and subsequent test is about as good a preview as is currently possible of what reentry will look like during one of the company’s planned recreational space visits.
Last week, Reuters reported that Blue Origin employees think that these short tourist flights — which will launch patrons into suborbital space, where they can observe the curvature of the Earth, and experience the joys of weightlessness and vertigo — will cost somewhere around $200,000 to $300,000 per head.
The final part of their journey, a parachuted touchdown in New Shepard’s 6-person capsule, will likely look very similar to the culmination of Mission 9:
The purpose of today’s launch, surrounded by the sandy scrub brush, was the testing of an escape motor on the capsule intended to rapidly propel this passenger and/or cargo portion of the vehicle far above Shepard’s reusable rocket in the case of an emergency. The capsule’s the reaction control system (RCS) thrusters were also a major target for testing today, specifically their ability to stabilize the capsule in those space and near-space altitudes. After travelling together for 2 minutes and 40 seconds, these components successfully separated and the capsule traveled to what is reportedly its highest distance yet, 119 kilometers above Earth, before finally executing the successful self-landing.
No one was on New Shepard this time, but a variety of science experiments did make the trip for their own purposes, including a Suborbital Flight Experiment Monitor-2 from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, designed to monitor cabin pressure, acoustic conditions, and other flight data. Germany’s Otto-von-Guericke University had an experiment onboard to study the statistical dynamics of weightless dust clouds. And, also, some Blue Origin employees just put some of their personal belongings in the ship, evidently for fun.
Lastly, as has been the case with many Blue Origin missions in the past, the company’s own flight test dummy was also onboard: Mannequin Skywalker, a reference to the genocidal theocrat, Sith occultist and Boonta Eve Classic podracing champion, Anakin Skywalker, from the Star Wars film franchise.