Blue Origin, owned and founded by billionaire Jeff Bezos, successfully launched its New Shepard rocket from its launch site in west Texas. Nevertheless, both the spacecraft and rocket returned safely to the West Texas launch site for a successful test flight.
At least one expert thinks the launch brings Bezos and Blue Origin much closer to flying people past the border between Earth and space known as the Kármán line.
Credit: Blue OriginCredit: Blue OriginCredit: Blue OriginCredit: Blue OriginJeff Bezos and members of the Blue Origin team inspect the Crew Capsule 2.0 after its landing. The flight was unmanned save for a test-flight dummy with sensors inside of the capsule.
When Blue Origin last flew its New Shepard system, the spacecraft intentionally triggered its abort system 45 seconds after launch. The New Shepard system is a fully reusable system that operates with a vertical launch and landing to propel the Blue Origin capsule into space.
The pressurized capsule features the largest windows to ever be used in space flight and seats for six passengers.
The prize for the booster's survival was a well-earned retirement from test operations and a tour of Blue Origin events around the United States. After reaching a maximum ascent velocity of Mach 2.94, the capsule returned to Earth under parachutes, landing at a speed of just 1 miles per hour.
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Today's test flight may well presage some big things from Blue Origin in the near future.
It was the first time the company launched a crew capsule with real windows, measuring 73 centimetres wide and 110 centimetres tall - that the company hopes will attract space tourists for suborbital rides.
Blue Origin has yet to reveal the cost per passenger for such a flight, which the company calls its "astronaut experience".
Crew members are expected to be involved in test flights next year, with it announced in October that tourists would be able to head into orbit within 18 months.
New Shepard seems a capable rocket system, but Logsdon notes it has a hard limitation.
The third full-scale test flight of the entire New Shepard system then occurred in April 2016 in a test to provide in-flight use of a new, more efficient Reaction Control System algorithm on the capsule as well as fly two microgravity experiments inside the capsule.