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New Shepard hits new heights in test spaceflight

Blue Origin New Shepard spaceship
Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship blasts off for an escape system test. (Blue Origin via YouTube)

As Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos watched, his Blue Origin space venture sent its reusable New Shepard spaceship to its highest-ever altitude today during a successful test of a rocket motor that’s meant to be used only in emergencies.

The climax of the uncrewed test flight came shortly after New Shepard’s capsule separated from its booster and switched on its 70,000-pound-thrust escape rocket motor.

As planned, the high-altitude firing pushed the capsule past the boundary of outer space, to an unofficial maximum altitude of 389,846 feet, or 119 kilometers. Maximum ascent velocity was listed at 2,236 mph.

Then both the booster and the capsule made picture-perfect landings back at Blue Origin’s West Texas test site, within sight of the launch pad. The entire mission lasted 11 minutes and 17 seconds.

“Anything could have happened today, and this is the best possible outcome,” launch commentator Ariane Cornell said.

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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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