Destruction is a key component of the discovery process, and it looked like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin spaceflight company would be sacrificing one of its rockets to test out its emergency escape system. But it turns out those rockets are a little tougher than anyone thought.
Wired reports Blue Origin tested out the escape pod system in its crew capsule on Wednesday, essentially using a booster attached to the bottom of the capsule to fire it clear of the rocket (in the event of a catastrophic failure of the rocket). By doing this, the crew capsule was blasting the rocket with a ton of heat, which was expected to cause it to explode. But it didn’t.
The crew capsule released at 16,000 feet (when aerodynamic stress is at its peak) and dumped 70,000 pounds of force on the rocket booster. Even the most optimistic engineers at Blue Origin expected the rocket to either explode due to the force or at least be thrown off course causing a crash. Instead, the escape pod released and gently landed via its parachutes, and the rocket kept on flying to its programmed height, then headed back to Earth and landed back on the launchpad.
Put simply, the test wasn’t just a success for the escape pod system, but also a surprisingly great showcase for the toughness of the New Shepard rocket. The company plans to use the New Shepard rockets to ferry space tourists up to around 62 miles above the Earth starting in 2018. Seeing just how reliable this system is proving to be now should certainly help calm the nerves on those first few flights.