Blue Origin’s capsule escape test on Wednesday exceeded the company’s stated expectations as the New Shepard booster successfully returned to earth, something it didn’t expect.
Blue Origin said Sept. 8 in a statement that the booster was never designed to survive an in-flight escape. The capsule motor was to slam the booster with 70,000 pounds of off-axis force delivered by searing hot exhaust. Blue Origin said in the September statement did give the New Shepard booster a slight chance of surviving as its Monte Carlo simulations showed there was some chance of flying through disturbances encountered in abort scenarios.
Blue Origin said it successfully performed its abort mission. After New Shepard launched, the capsule separated from the booster and flipped over multiple times before straightening out. The capsule eventually deployed multiple sets of parachutes, first being three drogue parachutes near the top of the flight path followed shortly thereafter by main parachutes, to decrease the speed of descent before landing back on earth before New Shepard.
Commercial space advocate and industry consultant Rand Simberg said Wednesday he was surprised to see how many times the capsule flipped over during the abort test as it looked unstable. He said it certainly looked survivable, but would be rather exciting for astronauts inside.
Simberg wondered if the capsule’s retrorockets fired before it hit ground as he said Blue Origin’s capsule has retrorockets that fire to reduce speed of descent from 15 mph to 3 mph. Simberg said though the parachutes would do the trick to reduce speed to terminal velocity, the capsule would land with a pretty good bump at 15 mph. Simberg said Blue Origin having retrorockets on its capsule is unique as Boeing‘s [BA] CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX‘s Dragon capsules do not have retrorockets.
Overall, Simberg said Blue Origin should enthused by Wednesday’s performance of both the capsule and the booster. He believes Wednesday’s test will probably accelerate the date for when Blue Origin first flies people while, on the other hand, a discouraging test would have been a setback.
“The fact they got both the capsule and booster back probably gives them a lot of confidence, probably, that they’re going to be able to do commercial flights soon with passengers,” Simberg said. “It also gives them confidence in building their bigger vehicles.”
This was the fifth flight of the New Shepard booster and the seventh of the capsule, including the 2012 pad escape test. A Blue Origin spokesman declined to answer questions Wednesday.