Blue Origin has as its motto, Gradatim Ferociter. Loosely translated, it means ‘Step by step, ferociously.’ On December 12, the company took another ferocious step and conducted a launch of the updated New Shepard booster and the Crew Capsule 2.0 complete with windows and a test mannequin, cleverly named Mannequin Skywalker. Blue Origin had not conducted any suborbital test flights in over a year. As it typically does, Blue Origin did not announce the launch date, choosing to issue a press release after the successful launch and landing of both booster and capsule.
Jeff Bezos‘ Blue Origin and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are the only two companies in the world developing suborbital spacecraft for civilian spaceflight participants. Development of the launch vehicles and spacecraft have, to this point, taken over a decade. Virgin Galactic has flown test pilots on several test flights. Blue Origin will fly its first crew members in the Crew Capsule as part of the test program sometime in 2018.
The December 12, 2017 flight, which lasted roughly eleven minutes from liftoff to landing, was the first launch of Crew Capsule 2.0 with a semi-finished interior, full windows, and a telemetered test mannequin. It is not clear from press reports, but I am assuming this capsule was also pressurized to check for systems operation and environmental integrity as part of this test flight. The test mannequin was fitted from head to toe with sensors to take readings during launch, weightlessness after reaching apogee of 98.27 kilometers altitude, and the g-forces experienced during reentry.
Blue Origin also released an edited video of this test flight, from liftoff to capsule jettison, a brief period of weightlessness, then reentry, parachute deployment and gentle landing. You can watch that short video here. You can watch the full-length eleven minute version here.
This test flight, called M7, was the seventh for the New Shepard booster, which lifted off from the Blue Origin West Texas Launch Site around noon under perfectly clear skies. The booster used on this flight was identified as the next generation of the New Shepard with various systems improvements, although it is nearly identical in appearance to the first generation booster.
Also aboard the Crew Capsule 2.0 on this mission were 12 commercial, research and educational payloads. The full length version of the video from inside the capsule also had audio, so viewers could hear all the sounds emanating from the capsule during the flight. The capsule is fitted with thrusters to ensure it remains perfectly oriented during the entire flight, and especially during capsule separation and weightlessness.
The final seconds of the video also show the capsule descending under three parachutes and just before landing, the retrorockets firing to slow the capsule to just one mile per hour before landing a short distance from the launch site. The trajectory of the capsule during the suborbital flight is nearly vertical during launch and descent. It is designed to drift slightly away from the launch site to land in the dry scrubland within walking distance of the launch complex.
Several crewed test flights are planned for 2018, with Jeff Bezos announcing commercial spaceflight participants can look forward to their flight and astronaut’s wings in 2019.
Anthony Young ©Personal Spaceflight Advisors LLC
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