Blue Origin’s motto is Gradatim Ferociter. It’s Latin for “step by step, ferociously.” That next “step” is on Tuesday (October 4th). The Texas-based spacecraft company won’t be landing a rocket this time. Instead, it will be testing what is arguably an even more vital piece of technology. A crew escape system. And the company will stream the action live via a webcast starting at 10:50 am ET on Tuesday.
Blue Origin’s ambitions are far beyond landing the same rocket over and over again. Jeff Bezos foresees a future where tourists (and astronauts) catch a ride into space in a Blue Origin spacecraft. But doing it safely is paramount.
Since last November, the same New Shepard rocket has roared into the air above its West Texas test site. But Tuesday’s launch will be the final for this particular rocket.
45 seconds into flight, an escape command will be sent to the capsule atop New Shepard. Separation systems will detach the capsule from the rocket. At the same moment, the escape motor will ignite. It will burn for just two seconds, but will send the capsule hundreds of feet away and to the side of the main booster. Three drogue parachutes will deploy near its highest point followed by the main parachutes. That’s the plan anyways.
Here’s an animation of what all of this should look like on Tuesday.
You can see how the escape motor is integrated into the capsule. Like SpaceX, Blue Origin is a huge proponent of reusability. The more the company can reuse, the more they can cut costs.
Contrast this with the tried and true tower method NASA is adopting for their new Orion capsule.
The tower system is proven, but you lose it every launch. Watch the system in action during a test a few years ago.
SpaceX performed a test of their abort system last year, but it was also on the pad. It’ll be interesting to see how Blue Origin’s system performs in mid-flight. And during one of the most stressful parts.
As for the booster? There’s a slight chance it can survive the test. If it does, Jeff Bezos (founder of Blue Origin) plans to throw a “retirement party and put it in a museum.” But it’s probably going to slam into the dry ground in a spectacular way. One of the few times a rocket explosion isn’t a bad thing.
Tune in Tuesday, October 4th at 10:50 am ET to see the test live.