Bezos launches spacecraft higher than ever

Blue Origin New Shepard launch

Blue Origin, the Kent-based rocket maker, launched its New Shepard rocket Wednesday on a test flight from West Texas.

The commercial space company, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is performing another test on its sub-orbital New Shepard spacecraft and launch vehicle.

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 booster is created to take off from a launch pad, climb to the internationally-recognized boundary of space at an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers), and land nearby with rocket thrust and aerobrakes.

Blue Origin is expected to conduct several more uncrewed tests in the months ahead, leading up to the first flight with Blue Origin's test astronauts.

Wednesday's passenger was Mannequin Skywalker, an instrumented dummy in a blue flight suit that's flown before, plus science experiments. Unlike NASA's Mercury and Apollo spacecraft, which jettisoned their escape rockets before reaching orbit, Blue Origin's is built into the capsule. Company officials say "test passengers" could go into space late this year, with paying customers taking flights in 2019. (Blue Origin via YouTube) The New Shepard capsule makes its descent.

Booster landing
New Shepard’s reusable booster comes in for a landing

As it continues to progress toward human flights, Blue Origin will perform another potentially risky uncrewed test today of its New Shepard rocket and spacecraft.

If passengers were on board, that's when they would experience a few minutes of weightlessness.

New Shepard performed as expected during today's flight, appearing to ace the test, Cornell said. "Just another day at the office", she said. "We have not set ticket pricing and have had no serious discussions inside of Blue on the topic", said the statement. "But we've got our eyes on the prize".

Other experiments included one to measure magnetic fields inside the capsule and another to test a vibration isolation platform that could be used by future payloads to further reduce vibrations for "higher precision microgravity studies". Those missions will rely on the bigger, more powerful New Glenn rocket still under development.

Blue Origin's New Shepard booster on its launch pad in West Texas.

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