UPDATE: Blue Origin nailed the test. The crew capsule successfully separated from the booster and landed softly on the dry ground in West Texas. And how about the New Shepard booster?! Enjoy that retirement party! Fast forward to one hour, six minutes to see the launch.
Original story follows.
These days, destroying rockets is the last thing companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin want to do. They are trying to get them back to Earth in one piece, not hundreds. But sometimes, you just have to let go. And that’s what Blue Origin is going to do in the next hour or so.
Today, Blue Origin is taking a break from testing its reusable rocket and focusing on another integral part of its space ambitions. Safety. You can’t convince space tourists to part with their cash if it isn’t safe. Well, as safe as sitting atop a rocket can be.
The launch will go like the previous ones. New Shepard’s rocket booster will roar to life sending the rocket and capsule into the skies above West Texas.
But 45 seconds after launch, Blue Origin personnel will send an abort command to the capsule. Separation systems will cut the capsule from the booster. At the same moment, an escape motor integrated within the capsule will fire sending. It will burn for just two seconds, but long enough to get the capsule away from the booster.
The two-second burn is long enough to push the capsule hundreds of feet away (and to the side) of the booster’s path. At the top of the capsule’s new flight path, it will deploy a trio of drogue parachutes followed by its main parachutes. If everything goes according to plan, the capsule will gently touchdown in the desert near the launch pad.
Blue Origin’s booster could make it
It’s possible, but I wouldn’t count on it. Jeff Bezos explains why in a recent blog post:
This test will probably destroy the booster. The booster was never designed to survive an in-flight escape. The capsule escape motor will slam the booster with 70,000 pounds of off-axis force delivered by searing hot exhaust. The aerodynamic shape of the vehicle quickly changes from leading with the capsule to leading with the ring fin, and this all happens at maximum dynamic pressure.
Monte Carlo simulations (simulations that allow you to account for every conceivable risk, this NASA paper dives into much more detail) performed by Blue Origin show there is a small chance the booster can weather the extreme forces against it and survive.
Let’s say the booster makes it, what’s next for it? Today’s is its last time in the air no matter what. If it makes it, Bezos and company plan to throw a party and put it in a museum. After five flights (if it survives today), it deserves it.
Here’s an animation of what is expected to happen this morning.