Science & Environment

Bezos space capsule practises abort

Escape Image copyright BLUE ORIGIN
Image caption The capsule pushes itself up and away from the booster

Amazon boss Jeff Bezos has furthered his ambition to launch people into space by practising a critical safety manoeuvre on his New Shepard vehicle.

The rocket and capsule system launched normally from its Van Horn, Texas, desert pad on Wednesday but then made an early separation during the ascent.

A motor in the capsule pushed it clear to parachute back to the ground.

The “abort” simulated what would happen if the booster were ever to develop a problem as it climbed into the sky.

Before Mr Bezos’ Blue Origin company starts putting people on the New Shepard system, there has to be confidence that lives can be saved in the event of an emergency.

New Shepard is a sub-orbital vehicle - that is, it delivers sufficient thrust to put its capsule only briefly into space.

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Image caption The New Shepard system is designed to be totally re-usable

What is remarkable about New Shepard is that it is totally re-usable - both the booster and the capsule.

Ordinarily, boosters are expendable. It is only recently that rocket vehicles have started to fly themselves back to Earth after a flight for a new mission.

The booster used in Wednesday’s outing was making its fifth flight. Before the test, Blue Origin said it was unlikely to survive the demonstration due to the instability that is introduced by a mid-flight escape of the capsule.

But the booster had no difficulty handling the disruption of the abort manoeuvre and brought itself down under control. It will now be put on show in a museum.

Mr Bezos plans to take fare-paying passengers who want to ride New Shepard on short hops above the atmosphere.

Scientists will also be given the opportunity to fly experiments in the capsule. These are studies that need to be run in a weightless environment, which the capsule will experience at the top of its arc.

The online retail entrepreneur also plans to build a much bigger rocket system that he will launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The booster for this, called New Glenn after the famous American astronaut John Glenn, should make its maiden flight before the end of the decade, Mr Bezos says.

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Image caption The New Shepard booster lifts away from the Texas pad
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Image caption The capsule has flown six times now and will also be retired to a museum
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Image caption It made its return on three large parachutes
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Image caption The booster came back shortly afterwards and follow me on Twitter: @BBCAmos

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