Last month’s test flight of a Blue Origin rocket ship to space and back was aimed at seeing how safely it could land even if one of its three parachutes went out. Today, the results got a thumbs-up from Jeff Bezos, who’s the founder of the Blue Origin space venture as well as the Amazon online retailing giant.
“We’ve designed the capsule to ensure astronaut safety not just for the failure of one parachute, but even for the failure of two parachutes,” Bezos said in an email update that was addressed to fans and potential spacefliers.
The rocket ships are built at Blue Origin’s production facility in Kent, Wash., and then shipped down to the company’s suborbital launch complex in West Texas.
The uncrewed flight test was conducted June 19. New Shepard rocketed up just beyond the 100-kilometer (62-mile) boundary of outer space. Then the booster fired up its rocket engine again for a vertical landing, while the crew capsule made a separate descent to Earth.
Similar flights had been done with the same craft three times before, but this time around, one of the capsule’s parachutes was disabled. Bezos said the two parachutes slowed the descent to 23 mph, as opposed to the usual 16 mph with three parachutes..
Just before the touchdown, the capsule’s retro rocket system fired. Bezos said that brought the speed at impact down to 3 mph. The capsule was equipped with a ring of crushable bumpers on its bottom to absorb that remaining force.
“Even with one chute out, the crushable barely crushed,” Bezos reported. “When new, the crushable is about 5.5 inches high and can crush down to less than one inch high, providing a constant deceleration force as it crushes. After the mission, the crushable was still over 5 inches high along nearly the entire circumference of the ring.”
The spacecraft itself didn’t even suffer a fender bender. If astronauts were on board, they would have felt nothing more than a jolt. “In addition to the retrorocket system and the crushable ring, there is an energy-absorbing mechanism mounted underneath each seat,” Bezos explained.
The bumpers will be replaced for the next flight, which is likely to take place next month. If Blue Origin’s space program proceeds according to plan, test astronauts will start flying on New Shepard next year. Paying passengers could get on board as early as 2018.
The ticket price hasn’t yet been set, and Blue Origin isn’t taking reservations, but the company does let you sign up for more information – including future emails from Bezos.