Watch Blue Origin's New Shepard 2 survive its last test
Watch Blue Origin's New Shepard 2 survive its last test. Image credit: Blue Origin.

Blue Origin conducted a flight test of the in-flight abort system built into its New Shepard 2 suborbital launch vehicle yesterday. It was the fifth and final flight of the NS2 propulsion module after four vertical soft landings.

In the simulated launch emergency, the abort system successfully fired its escape motor 45 seconds after take-off. The unmanned spacecraft then deployed three parachutes to allow a gentle touchdown.

Predictions expected the exhaust of the abort motor to overthrow the flight control system of the New Shepard. However, the rocket remained stable and completed its ascendant route towards space, instead of crashing.

Unlike its predecessor, the NS2 landed without any problems. During the first and only flight test of the New Shepard 1 in April 2015, the booster stage landing crashed. The cause was a failure of the hydraulic pressure in the vehicle control system while descending.

The NS2 will end up in a museum

Founded by Jeff Bezos, the aerospace company’s New Shepard 2 became the first booster rocket to return from space and make a successful vertical landing in November 2015. Both the capsule and launch vehicle returned to the ground intact. It was Blue Origin’s first major victory since its space project began in 2006.

Deemed a reusable launch system, Blue Origin’s spacecraft made three additional test flights with the same vehicle before yesterday’s trial. The NS2 repeated the feat back in January and demonstrated its reusable capabilities. The same vehicle flew a third time last April before returning safe and sound.

Blue Origin promised the NS2 would become a museum item if it survived all the tests. A third New Shepard is in the making and should go to the Texas test site soon. Blue Origin is planning to build a total of six of the vehicles.

Blue Origin expects to send commercial flights to space by 2018

Prototype engine and vehicle flights of the New Shepard began in 2006. Full-scale engine development started in 2010 and finished in 2015. That same year, unmanned test flights of the propulsion module and space capsule commenced.

The suborbital manned rocket is set to become a commercial system for suborbital space tourism. Blue Origin plans to launch flights with test passengers by 2017, while commercial flights should begin in 2018.

The name New Shepard is a reference to Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut in space and one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts. He made the first manned Mercury flight, which ascended to space on a suborbital trajectory similar to the New Shepard.

Source: Blue Origin