In these early days of commercial spaceflight, rockets die in spectacular accidents — but also, sometimes, on purpose. This morning, you can watch Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket go out in a fiery blaze of glory somewhere in the Texas desert, so that future space tourists don't meet the same fate. Image: Blue Origin
At least, that is probably how things will go down on the rocket's fifth flight, an on-air test of the launch abort system that will separate the crew capsule from the New Shepard rocket's booster at an altitude of 5000m. The system is designed to propel humans to safety should anything go wrong with the blazing tube of fire they're strapped to on their trip into orbit. In such an emergency, the capsule detaches from the booster, its engines fire for two seconds, parachutes deploy and frightened human cargo floats safely back to Earth.
The booster itself probably won't survive. It will be getting slammed with a lot of destabilising, off-axis force as the crew capsule makes its daring getaway. Blue Origin fully expects the rocket to tumble back to terra firma and produce a spectacular fireball somewhere in the desert. If, somehow, the booster make it through the ordeal intact, Jeff Bezos has promised to retire its five flight veteran with dignity in a museum.
Either way, this launch abort system test should be well worth your while to watch. As Blue Origin wrote in a recent blog post, "Our next flight is going to be dramatic no matter how it ends."
The action begins at 1:45AM AEDT and you can follow along with us right here:
Update 3:00AM AEDT: After getting off to a slow start, Blue Origin's in-flight launch escape test went better than anybody expected! Both the capsule and the rocket booster survived and landed beautifully.