Blue Origin’s New Shepard spaceship hits new heights in escape test flight

Blue Origin New Shepard launch

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 vehicle lifted off from the company's West Texas test site at 11:11 a.m.

In October, 2016, the company conducted a lower altitude in-flight escape test when engineers intentionally triggered the spacecraft's launch abort system at about 45 seconds after launch and an altitude of 16,000 feet. It was the eighth time the company successfully tested the system for future passenger flights.

New Shepard flew for the ninth time on July 18, 2018.

Blue Origin didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Update, 7:06 a.m. PT: The launch time has changed. During this mission, known as Mission 9 (M9), the escape motor was sacked shortly after booster separation.

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

"It's an important test in our march towards flying humans into space, which hopefully will be soon", Ariane Cornell, head of astronaut strategy and sales at Blue Origin, during a company webcast of the test.

The escape rocket motor is built into the crew capsule to provide a backup plan in case something goes wrong with New Shepard's booster. The flight of experiment was arranged Olympiaspace, a European "commercial space agency" that took care of logistical and regulatory matters for the payload.

It's also not yet known how much Blue Origin plans to charge for rides in a New Shepard capsule. A separate employee said prices would begin at $200,000, according to Reuters. "Just another day at the office", she said.

A dummy the company calls "Mannequin Skywalker" was onboard to give the company data on what the flight would be like for real passengers. It's coming, but we've got our eye on the prize, and we've got to make sure we understand our system through and through. The propulsion module, about 30 meters away from the crew capsule when the motor fired, was unaffected by the test and made a powered vertical landing on a pad near the launch site. The company says more than 700 people have signed up to fly. The hardware used in previous tests has been retired and put on exhibit at Blue Origin's Florida rocket factory, where the orbital-class New Glenn rocket will be built.

The first test passengers may fly on the rocket as early as this year, with the first paying customers set to fly by 2019.

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