Assuming success Wednesday, the aerospace company founded by Jeff Bezos appears to be getting closer to flying humans into space on New Shepard. Blue Origin accomplished a low-altitude abort test with a previous version of the New Shepard vehicle in October 2016, proving the capsule's solid-fueled abort motor could get passengers away from a catastrophic in-flight failure. Its effectiveness is essential to ensuring the safety of any people who might ride aboard the capsule in the future. It was the ninth test flight and lasted 11 minutes.
On Wednesday's flight, Blue Origin says it will push the New Shepard rocket to its limits with a high-altitude escape motor test.
After launch, the reusable New Shepard booster will climb to an altitude of 62 miles (100 kilometers), the internationally-approved boundary of space, and then proceed to land nearby.
That second flight saw the New Shepard booster lofting its Crew Module to an altitude of 329,839 feet before returning under powered control to an upright landing - marking the first time a suborbital rocket successfully landed after a straight-up/straight-down flight.
TESTING. TESTING. Blue Origin wasn't the only company testing the waters with this New Shepard rocket launch; the rocket's capsule contained a variety of devices and experiments for scientists and educators conducting microgravity research.
The launch was webcast live on Blue Origin's website.
The reusable New Shepard rocket settles to a picture-perfect touchdown.
Although there weren't any people aboard this test flight, Blue Origin's test dummy, Mannequin Skywalker, was strapped in a chair to measure the gravitation forces a real body might experience during a somewhat violent abort. Those experiments touch on topics like using Wi-Fi in space, modeling cosmic dust clouds, monitoring conditions within the capsule and protecting payloads from vibrations during the flight, according to the company's statement before the launch.
Unlike SpaceX, which thus far has largely focused on sending cargo into space as opposed to humans, Blue Origin is leading the charge on space tourism and crewed missions.
It's part of a safety system meant to save lives once space tourists and others climb aboard for suborbital hops.
Blue Origin has yet to announce when it will start selling tickets or how much flights will cost. The hardware used in previous tests has been retired and put on exhibit at Blue Origin's Florida rocket factory, where the orbital-class New Glenn rocket will be built.