The unmanned crew capsule was pushed hard by the escape test, with the escape motor firing shortly after booster separation. The M9 was a success for both the booster and capsule and confirmed that future Blue Origin crews will have the ability to safely escape if an anomaly occurs at any time during launch.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard M9 ready for liftoff. (Image source: Blue Origin)
The New Shepard system is a fully reusable vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) space vehicle, consisting of a pressurized capsule atop a booster. The combined vehicles launch vertically, accelerating for approximately two and a half minutes, before the engine cuts off.
The New Shepard crew capsule reached ground safely. The M9 capsule was unmanned but carried carry science and research payloads. (Image source: Blue Origin)
The capsule then separates from the booster to coast quietly into space. The New Shepard crew capsule is primarily designed for short observation – or space tourism – flights and only travels a relatively short distance past the Kármán line or 100 kilometers above Earth’s sea level.
After a few minutes of free fall, the booster performs an autonomously controlled rocket-powered vertical landing, while the capsule lands softly under parachutes, both ready to be used again.
The New Shepard consists of a single-stage launch vehicle and observation-oriented crew capsule. (Image source: Blue Origin)
Alternatively, Blue Origin’s New Glenn three-stage spacecraft is designed to transport people and payloads into Earth orbit. It also leverages a reusable VTVL launch vehicle.
Blue Origin – headquartered in Kent, Wash. – has methodically tested the New Shepard launch vehicle with simulated failures and contingencies over the past several years, following in the company’s Latin motto of “Gradatim Ferociter!” or “step by step, ferociously.”
The New Shepard launch vehicle is a vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) single-stage vehicle. (Image source: Blue Origin)
In October of 2012, the company replicated a New Shepard booster failure on the launch pad and executed a successful escape. Then, in October of 2016, a simulated booster failure in-flight at “Max Q” – the most physically strenuous point in the flight – was followed by another successful capsule escape.
The M9 test on July 18, 2018 outlined escape motor performance in the near-vacuum of space and demonstrated crew capsule escape during the last phase of the launch.
Beyond validating crew escape systems, Blue Origin used the modular, 530-cubic-feet M9 crew capsule to carry science and research payloads from commercial companies, universities, and space agencies.
A few notable payloads provided research on WiFi access throughout the launch, demonstrated active stabilization measures for sensitive equipment, and supported development of phase change heat transfer systems.
William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include 'literally anything that has to do with space,' past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.
Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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