Blue Origin finds success in parachute failure and fourth rocket landing
It was the first time Blue Origin has broadcasted its rocket-landing exploits to a live audience, but the added pressure has had no discernible impact on the company's efforts to pioneer private space travel. Sunday marked the fourth successive landing of the same New Shepard rocket and crew capsule, with the testing of emergency parachute systems also carried out as planned.
When it comes to bringing space capsules down to Earth, two parachutes are safer than one, but three are even better. This is the number attached to the New Shepard space capsule in the interests of safety, but yesterday's mission was intended to test the craft's redundancy systems in the event of one of these chutes not opening.
So after launching into the Texas sky and rising to 331,500 ft (101 km), the rocket let go of its capsule and began plummeting back toward Earth. It fired up its engines at an altitude of 5,000 ft (1,524 m) to slow its descent to a speed of 5 mph (8 km/h), deployed its landing gear and touched down safely at the same take-off point, something it is now making a habit of doing.
Not far behind, the crew capsule floated gently back to Earth, but with only two of its parachutes deployed rather than three. This caused the capsule to swing back and forth a little during the descent, but it eventually plowed into the turf and kicked up an impressive dust cloud in the process. Nevertheless, all went as planned, according to the hosts of the live webcast.
"Touchdown, beautiful, oh that was magic," said Ariane Cornell, of Blue Origin's Business Development and Strategy team.
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos was also pleased with the mission's success, but hinted that his choice of footwear may have had a role to play. "Careful engineering plus of course ... the lucky boots. Successful mission," the Amazon founder tweeted.
Just like rivals SpaceX, Blue Origin's aim is to develop reusable rockets as a means of making space travel cheap and more accessible. The capsules are designed to carry six tourists just beyond the Kármán line, the altitude of around 100 km commonly recognized as the beginning of outer space.
You can check out a highlights package of the webcast below (or the full-length version, which runs for 50 minutes, here).