12:10pm ET Wednesday update. The test appears to be a great success. View our full report here.
Original mail: As it moves toward human flight, Blue Origin will conduct another potentially dangerous unmanned test of its New Shepard rocket and spacecraft today. While it hasn’t provided any details yet, the company has say it will fly “a high-altitude escape engine test – pushing the missile to its limits.” The test is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. EDT (14:00 UTC) at the company’s West Texas launch site. (Update: The time has been shifted to 11 a.m. ET).
This is the ninth test of the New Shepard reusable system and the third in which it has taken on commercial payloads on its short suborbital flights. This time around, the company is also flying a range of materials from Blue Origin employees as part of its internal “Fly My Stuff” program. (It’s unclear at this time how exactly “breakdown test” and “cargo” would fit together in the same mission – presumably the high-altitude abort will be followed by the New Shepard spacecraft pushing into space, but we don’t know exactly. sure. Blue Origin will have more details on what exactly is going on when the webcast starts.)
This isn’t New Shepard’s first high-energy test. In October 2016, the company conducted an in-flight escape test at a lower altitude when engineers deliberately activated the spacecraft’s launch abort system about 45 seconds after launch and at an altitude of 16,000 feet. Such systems are designed to fire quickly during an emergency and separate the crew pod from the booster.
The missile was not designed to survive an in-flight breakout and was knocked down with 70,000 pounds of off-axis force and hot exhaust. But even though the test was conducted at Max-Q – that is, the time period during which the vehicle is subjected to the highest mechanical and aerodynamic stress – the drive module did not break apart. That rocket is now part of a roadshow and will eventually go to a museum.
Assuming success on Wednesday, the space company founded by Jeff Bezos appears to be getting closer to flying people into space on New Shepard. Company officials say “test passengers” could go into space by the end of this year, while paying customers will take flights in 2019. There is speculation that Bezos himself, the world’s richest person, will be one of the first people to fly to New Shepard.
The webcast below should begin approximately 20 minutes before the test begins.