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Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin launches spacecraft higher than ever

19 July 2018

A team of engineers in West Texas is preparing Blue Origin's suborbital New Shepard booster for launch Wednesday on an uncrewed test flight aimed at demonstrating a key safety feature for space tourists and scientists riding on future rockets soaring to the edge of space.

By the seventh test, the campaign featured a new next-generation booster - powered by its BE-3 engine - and the first flight of Crew Capsule 2.0, a spacecraft that featured real windows, measuring 2.4 x 3.6 feet.

After launch, the capsule separated from the rocket just like it should, and then its emergency motor ignited - just as it's supposed to during an emergency situation.

The motor performed as expected, giving the capsule an extra boost and setting an altitude record of 118.8 kilometers before landing by parachute 11 minutes after liftoff.

The solid-fuel "pusher" abort motor, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne with subsystems provided by Blue Origin, is created to quickly ignite on command from flight controllers or an on-board computer if safety software detects an impending booster malfunction, rapidly propelling the capsule and its crew away from the rocket with a jarring burst of acceleration. The launch from Blue Origin's test site in West Texas is set to occur at 14:00 UTC - with the test campaign now in the final leg ahead of carrying paying customers.

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Another payload offered an unusual synergy with another part of Blue Origin.

Blue Origin is owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.

New Shepard's reusable booster comes in for a landing.

This launch was the ninth for the New Shepard program, and the third for this particular combination of crew capsule and propulsion module. Launch commentator Ariane Cornell promised it would be soon.

Wednesday's passenger was Mannequin Skywalker, plus science experiments. Also, ticket prices for a trip into space haven't yet been decided, noted Cornell.

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For Wednesday's flight, the spacecraft was loaded with a variety of experiments, including instrumentation provided by NASA to measure pressure, acoustics, acceleration and other factors, a WiFi experiment, a study of how fine particles interact in random collisions and another NASA experiment to learn more about how water droplets behave in microgravity.

Blue Origin is developing a much bigger rocket, called New Glenn, as an orbital launcher.

This year has already been packed with rocket launches, and many of those have come from SpaceX.

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