Image: Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket lands after its successful launch abort test. Credit: Blue Origin Surprisingly, Blue Origin's suborbital New Shepard rocket returned intact from an inflight abort test intended to demonstrate how passengers would fly to safety in case their launch vehicle was having a bad day.
The rocket, carrying a prototype passenger capsule, lifted off its West Texas launch pad at 11:37 a.m. EDT. About 45 seconds later, the capsule separated from the booster and ignited its own solid-rocket motor to fly away. The test is intended to demonstrate how the capsule, which is designed to carry six passengers, could survive a launch accident.
Computer simulations indicated the rocket, which has made four previous flights, likely would tip over, shut down and crash in the desert.
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Instead, as the capsule deployed parachutes for a ride back to the ground, the rocket continued on its path toward space.
Seven minutes later, its BE-3 engine kicked on, its landing legs deployed and the scorched looking booster touched down.
"There you go New Shepard. Look at her!" mission commentator Ariane Cornell said as the booster touched down.
Both the capsule and the booster will be retired, she added.
Blue Origin, owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is in the process of assembling two more New Shepard vehicles, which will have capsules with large windows.
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The Kent, Washington-based company hopes to begin test flights with its own pilots and engineers aboard next year and then begin commercial service in 2018.
The capsules are designed to fly six passengers (and no pilots) to an altitude of more than 62 miles above Earth so they can experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the planet set against the blackness of space.
Blue Origin has not yet started selling tickets for flights.
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