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Watch Blue Origin Crash a Rocket In the Name of Safety

This test is a key step on the path to putting people in space.

by Amy Thompson
Oct 5 2016, 9:00am

Image: Blue Origin

Update: Blue Origin's capsule abort test was a success, and the company managed to land its New Shepard rocket booster without crashing it! Read about it here. The original story is below.

Blue Origin is about to take the next leap towards launching humans into space: making sure they don't die if things go wrong

In what could be their most explosive test yet, the aerospace company is conducting an in-flight test of its crew capsule escape system and you can watch it live beginning at 10:45 am ET. (The test was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but postponed 24 hours due to inclement weather).

Blue Origin anticipates sending paying customers to the edge of space in 2018. But before the first crews launch, they must prove they can keep those passengers safe. This is where the escape system comes in.

Each New Shepard rocket has two main components: a crew capsule — with room for six passengers — and a rocket booster. At 45 seconds after liftoff, mission control will trigger an alarm simulating a problem with the booster. This will ignite a small rocket motor underneath the capsule, pushing it away from the booster, before touching down under parachute in the Texas desert. Here's an animation of what the company expects will happen.

Both Blue Origin and rival SpaceX depend on built-in engines to whisk their capsules to safety, while previous designs (like Apollo, Mercury, Soyuz) relied on expendable rocket motors mounted on top of the capsule to pull it to safety during an emergency.

Blue Origin previously tested the system both on the ground and on the launch pad, but not in flight. Today will demonstrate how the system performs higher up in the atmosphere (roughly 16,000 feet) at a region known as "Max Q", where the stresses on the vehicle are highest.

Will the booster rocket — with four historic landings under its belt — survive the turbulent conditions? Most likely not. But if it does, Bezos plans on giving it the royal treatment. "We will in fact reward it for its service with a retirement party and put it in a museum," Bezos wrote in a post on the Blue Origin website. Otherwise we may see a dazzling pyrotechnic display as it impacts the ground.

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