Blue Origin subjects its rocket to high-altitude escape test

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A team of engineers in West Texas is preparing Blue Origin's suborbital New Shepard booster for launch Wednesday on an uncrewed test flight aimed at demonstrating a key safety feature for space tourists and scientists riding on future rockets soaring to the edge of space. The rocket performed a "high altitude escape motor test", the company said on Twitter, simulating a high-altitude emergency scenario by igniting the escape booster on the bottom of the passenger, or in this case, payload capsule.

After launch, the capsule separated from the rocket just like it should, and then its emergency motor ignited - just as it's supposed to during an emergency situation.

This was the third trip to space for both this New Shepherd rocket booster and the crew capsule, both created to be reusable like SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster and Dragon capsules.

Along with the suborbital New Shepard rockets and spacecraft, Blue Origin also is developing a powerful new engine, the BE-4, to help boost satellites into orbit using much larger New Glenn rockets.

Blue Origin launched a New Shepard rocket to space earlier in April.

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During the 2016 test, ignition of the escape motor did not noticeably affect the reusable booster, which continued to fire before shutting down normally and falling back to Earth for a rocket-powered upright landing.

The reusable New Shepard rocket settles to a picture-perfect touchdown. Launch commentator Ariane Cornell promised it would be soon.

Another payload offered an unusual synergy with another part of Blue Origin.

While this flight was primarily meant to demonstrate the vehicle's escape system, the crew capsule carried eight research and technology demonstration payloads, similar to what the vehicle has done on previous suborbital test flights.

Experiments hitching a ride on the test flight Wednesday include a privately-developed in-cabin WiFi transmitter, and a package of NASA sensors to measure cabin pressure, temperature, carbon dioxide levels, acoustic conditions, and acceleration inside the crew capsule. "Mannequin had a smooth, smooth landing".

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The hardware used in previous tests has been retired and put on exhibit at Blue Origin's Florida rocket factory, where the orbital-class New Glenn rocket will be built.

If all goes well, the demonstration may well see Blue Origin closer to flying people on brief trips to space.

But Blue Origin officials have not announced pricing or when tickets might go on sale.

"But we've got our eye on the prize", she added.

This year has already been packed with rocket launches, and many of those have come from SpaceX.

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