Blue Origin Nails Another Launch and Tests a Capsule Landing Too

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That other space company was busy this Father’s Day. Jeff Bezos’ (you know him as the CEO of Amazon) space company Blue Origin launched its New Shepard rocket at 10:36 am EDT this morning. A few minutes later the rocket was back on the ground intact for the fourth time.

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Today’s launch was a little different, though. New Shepard carried a crew capsule into suborbital space. Eventually, Blue Origin wants to ferry six wealthy customers to space and back again. This morning’s test was to make sure those customers reach Earth intact.

If everything goes smoothly, three parachutes slow the capsule to a soft landing. But what if something went wrong? How would the crew capsule fare? That’s what Blue Origin wanted to see today. They deliberately failed one of the main parachutes during its descent.

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Crew capsule with two parachutes deployed.

During the livecast, the commentators stated the two parachutes would still slow the capsule down to 1-2 miles per hour. But the speed indicator on-screen showed the speed was still around 20 miles per hour.

Besides the three parachutes, the capsule also incorporates a retro-thrust system to cushion the landing according to Blue Origin’s website. It’s the same kind of setup the Soyuz capsules use. Check out the nice kick astronauts receive during landing. Fast-forward to 19 minutes in the video below.

After kicking up a decent amount of dust during landing, we see the capsule appears to be intact. Maybe the on-screen speed indicator was wrong? Blue Origin declared it a “smooth landing.” And signed off the Twitter post with Gradatim Ferociter.

Jeff Bezos has the same slogan on a pair of lucky boots.

Gradatim Ferociter is the Blue Origin motto, and it’s Latin for “step by step, ferociously.”

You can watch a replay of today’s livecast below.

What’s next for Blue Origin?

Testing. A lot more testing. Blue Origin is off to a hot start, but everyone at the company knows they still have much to learn. Each launch and landing give them more data to improve the rocket and their landing techniques.

Blue Origin’s engineer Geoff Huntington, who co-hosted the webcast, said we should expect more test flights this year. Right now, Blue Origin is aiming to put test pilots on these launches next year. Paying customers? The year after that (2018). But as everyone likes to say in the industry, space is hard. Don’t be surprised to see this schedule change.

All the progress we see from Blue Origin, SpaceX and all the companies and agencies in spaceflight is incredible to watch. From SpaceX landing rockets on a droneship in the Atlantic to NASA unveiling the secrets of Pluto. It’s been fantastic to watch, and I can’t wait to see where we are in a few more years.

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