Next test should destroy Blue Origin’s booster

Image: Blue Origin anomaly
Artwork shows Blue Origin’s crew capsule firing its escape rocket motor. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, has flown the same rocket booster to outer space and back four times over the past year – but the fifth trip, planned for October, will be that booster’s last.

“Our next flight is going to be dramatic, no matter how it ends,” Bezos said in an email.

Bezos said the uncrewed flight will serve as a test of the New Shepard suborbital spaceship’s escape system.

About 45 seconds after New Shepard launches from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site, the capsule that’s designed for cargo and crew will separate from the booster. This will happen at an altitude of 16,000 feet, at a point in the ascent known as “max-Q,” or maximum dynamic pressure, when the spacecraft’s structure comes under maximum stress.

If the test proceeds according to plan, the capsule’s “pusher” rocket motor will fire for two seconds, propelling the capsule away from the booster. Parachutes will deploy to slow down the capsule’s descent, and the capsule will be recovered safe and sound.

The booster will have a rougher time, which Bezos is bummed about.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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