(Sen) - Private spaceflight company Blue Origin has taken another big step towards commercial operations with the successful test of a launch escape system for astronauts.
Blue Origin, a partner in NASA's Commercial Crew Program, tried out the emergency manoeuvre on 19 October at the company's launch site in Van Horn, West Texas.
A full-sized suborbital crew capsule was ejected from a simulation of the propulsion module with a firing of its pusher-escape motor. The capsule was sent rocketing to a height of just over 700 metres (2,307 ft) before parachuting gently to a soft landing.
Blue Origin, a company set up by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, designed and developed the pusher escape system to rescue crews in the event of an emergency at any stage during take-off of its suborbital New Shepard system.
Results from the tests will help them develop a similar escape system for an orbital Space Vehicle that is being developed. It is one of the initiatives that are helping NASA to transfer flight services into orbit to commercial companies, including carrying astronauts safely and reliably to the International Space Station and low-Earth orbit.
The Blue Origin system should allow full reuse of the rocket launcher which was not possible with NASA's previous systems which could only pull a spacecraft away from its rocket before it reached orbit.
The escape test clearly impressed NASA. Commercial Crew Program manager Ed Mango said: "The progress Blue Origin has made on its suborbital and orbital capabilities really is encouraging for the overall future of human spaceflight. It was awesome to see a spacecraft NASA played a role in developing take flight."
Blue Origin’s pusher escape system rockets its crew capsule away from the launch vehicle. Credit: Blue Origin
The test was part of Blue Origin's efforts to support its funded Space Act Agreement with NASA during Commercial Crew Development Round 2 (CCDev2).
Rob Meyerson, president and program manager of Blue Origin, said: "The use of a pusher configuration marks a significant departure from the traditional towed-tractor escape tower concepts of Mercury and Apollo.
"Providing crew escape without the need to jettison the unused escape system gets us closer to our goal of safe and affordable human spaceflight."
Blue Origin is focusing on the recycling of its spacecraft and a key part of this is the development of "Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing" technology. New Shepard has been designed to carry three astronauts in launches from Van Horn.
The crew capsule after its successful landing test. Credit: Blue Origin
It plans for its rocket and crew capsule to separate around two and a half minutes after launch. The rocket would return to Earth and perform a vertical landing whilst the crew capsule would fly to sub-orbital space, providing its passengers with a view of the curvature of Earth. The crew capsule would then land under parachute near the launch site.
On 15 October, NASA announced that Blue Origin was making progress under its CCDev2 agreement after successfully firing the thrust chamber assembly for its new liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen rocket engine. The engine forms part of Blue Origin's Reusable Booster System (RBS).