Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket made its fourth suborbital flight and powered landing in West Texas while carrying the currently-unmanned Crew Capsule 2.0 for the second time. The 10-minute test flight reached a record altitude of 351,000 ft (66 mi, 107 km) with the capsule separating and returning by parachute.
Sunday's launch of the Vertical Takeoff, Vertical Landing (VTVL) rocket was originally scheduled for 11:42 am CDT (16:42 GMT), but Blue Origin says that because this was a suborbital test flight, it allowed for several holds while technical issues were dealt with. After an uneventful lift-off, the booster reached engine shutdown about two minutes and 25 seconds into the flight with capsule separation 20 seconds later. The capsule carried on to reach apogee at about four minutes and seven seconds before gravity took over and pulled both rocket and payload back to Earth.
As in previous tests, the New Shepard returned to ground using guidance fins and drag brakes before starting its main engine for a powered touchdown seven minutes and 25 seconds after lift-off. Meanwhile, the capsule used drogue chutes to slow it from supersonic speed before deploying the main chutes for a hard touchdown at the 10 minutes and 12 seconds mark.
In addition to a test flight dummy called Mannequin Skywalker, this flight also marked the inclusion of Blue Origin's second commercial payload. This included a cabin environment sensor monitor from NASA's Johnson Space Center, the privately-funded Schmitt Space Communicator for testing Wi-Fi technology in space, the Daphnia experiment from the University of Bayreuth for studying the effect of microgravity on gene expression, the EQUIPAGE microgravity materials experiment, and the University of Duisburg-Essen's EUPHORIE experiment that uses lasers to observe how solid particles act when suspended in a gas.
According to Blue Origin, the launch was the latest step in development of the technology that will go into the New Glenn rocket, which is scheduled to fly in 2020. When fully operational, New Shepard will carry six passengers and crew as well as other payloads in suborbital jaunts into space.
The video below is a replay of the live launch webcast.
Source: Blue Origin
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