New Shepard, launch vehicle designed by Blue Origin especially for space tourism, finished second test of its rescue system. Just as in 2012, capsule was fired and landed on parachutes – but this time it was done in flight!
Launch was planned for today without specified hour – specialists from Blue Origin wanted to wait for perfect weather to avoid any problems during test. Plan of the flight assumed separating capsule and reaching safe distance from booster using rocket thruster installed on the bottom of the capsule, cutting off engines after approximately two seconds, reaching peak altitude of ballistic trajectory and deploying drag parachutes. Since then flight of the capsule was planned to be continued just as usual – with deployment of three main parachutes and starting rocket motors just before touch down.
In this point it should be reminded that rescue system was based on solid rocket boosters placed in different way, than used in comparable solutions. It is installed on the bottom of capsule and is reusable just as rest of the capsule. It is able to operate in every moment of flight of booster to provide capability of separating and reaching safe distance in fractions of seconds.
Shortly after 16:00 GMT at Van Horn space facility belonging to Blue Origin, New Shepard was switched to its internal power. Few minutes later all hydraulic systems were started for warm up and testing. Count down was halted after around 25 minutes to evaluate weather conditions. After around fifteen minutes countdown was resumed. Finally after passing all self-tests, rocket ignited its BE-3 engine and New Shepard started to rise seven seconds later at 16:59 GMT. Rocket was continuing flight as it was predicted and managed to reach speed of 772 km/h before separation of the capsule at T+45”. Capsule ignited motors and started escape maneuver with motors operating for 5 seconds, what was three seconds longer then it was previously planned. Capsule reached speed of 930 km/h before it started to reduce speed and used motors for stabilizing flight and positioning it with drag parachutes upwards. After passing through apogee of trajectory with speed reduced almost to zero, capsule deployed drag parachutes at T+1’06”. In the same time booster was continuing flight, which was not interrupted by Thrust Termination System (it was highly probable, that system will work if it will detect tilt of the rocket caused by changing weight and aerodynamic shape after separation). Speed of the capsule was reduced to 230 km/h at T+2’25”, when drag parachutes were separated and main parachutes were deployed two seconds later. In the same time, booster was still continuing its flight and reached then altitude of 60000 m. At T+4’14” capsule started its retro thrusters to reduce speed at the moment of touchdown to 4.8 km/h at T+4’15”. Meanwhile, booster was continuing flight to reach peak altitude at T+4’38” and begun descent. Special drag brakes reduced speed for about half until booster deployed wedge fins to stabilize flight at T+5’42”. At T+6’18” speed started to be reduced from peak value of 3757 km/h on altitude of 27700 m. Shortly after BE-3 engine was started at T+7’06”; landing grids were deployed at T+7’13” to land gently at T+7’30”.
New Shepard proved again that is reliable construction even in emergency situations. Engineers from Blue Origin doubted that booster will land correctly and claimed that change of weight and aerodynamic shape will cause tilt and engine will be automatically cut off by TTS system. Fortunately Blue Origin’s launch vehicle showed that has a wide margin of safety and can easily go through extreme conditions during flight – even jettisoning capsule was not enough to interrupt stable flight of New Shepard.