New Shepard–the primary rocket from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ private spaceflight venture, Blue Origin–flew a successful test flight yesterday. It climbed 307,000 feet, or 58 miles high, and did so at three times the speed of sound. The main goal for the rocket to someday take humans into space, but for now, these test flights are unmanned.
Designed to be a reusable vehicle, New Shepard can fail in new ways not expected of traditional once-and-done rockets, says Bezos. He writes at Blue Origin’s blog:
In fact, if New Shepard had been a traditional expendable vehicle, this would have been a flawless first test flight. Of course one of our goals is reusability, and unfortunately we didn’t get to recover the propulsion module because we lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent. Fortunately, we’ve already been in work for some time on an improved hydraulic system. Also, assembly of propulsion module serial numbers 2 and 3 is already underway – we’ll be ready to fly again soon.
In the future, Blue Origin will carry passengers in a special crew pod, along with science experiments in powered lockers located inside the vessel. Blue Origin has already tested the crew’s capsule escape system, which can blast the crew-containing part of the ship a safe distance away from the rocket, in case something goes south during flight. Future tests are likely to focus on both scaling up the rocket (Bezos refers to the next iteration as the “Very Big Brother”) and on making sure the rocket lands vertically like it’s supposed to do.