Blue Origin—self-proclaimed turtle of the commercial space race—is starting to come out of its shell. Tomorrow morning, the safety-conscious company is launching its reusable New Shepard rocket for the fifth time. The goal is not, however, to land the booster. Blue Origin will be test-firing its crew capsule’s emergency escape system while the rocket is 16,000 feet above ground (and climbing). Most likely scenario: that reusable rocket ends up as smoking wreckage in the Texas desert.

The New Shepard is a space tourism platform. Once Blue Origin is confident the rocket and capsule system are safe, it will start selling tickets to people who want to spend a few weightless moments at the edge of space. And—this part is very important—bring them back safely. Which is why this emergency escape test is so important. As if you need to be told that.

But just in case you do: Rockets are explosion tubes. When things go right, the explosion comes out of the bottom. When things go wrong, the explosion de-tubifies and engulfs everything else. In the best-case versions of these worst-case scenarios, the rocket gives a little bit of warning before it goes nova. In these situations, the escape system triggers. The crew capsule detaches from the rocket, and a dedicated rocket engine on the bottom of the capsule fires for about two seconds. Once the capsule is a safe distance from the malfunctioning rocket, parachutes deploy, and everyone on board descends safely to Earth with a complimentary cocktail party anecdote.

Here’s how Blue Origin expects the whole thing to go down:

The rocket, even though it’s not actually exploding, might not survive the test. The capsule’s engine will be pushing off with a lot of force. Enough to destabilize the rocket, Blue Origin believes, and make the thing impossible to land. Either way, this will be the rocket’s last flight, capping off four successful landings. If the New Shepard does manage to land one final time, Bezos has promised it a glorious retirement propped up somewhere in a museum. What, no Rolex?

If Blue Origin succeeds in making its rocket turtle shell safe, the company plans on starting crewed test flights of the New Shepard in 2017 and open up its service to paying customers the following year. Until then, curl up in your own little shell and watch tomorrow’s action live tomorrow, beginning at 10:45 am ET, by clicking on this here link.

Originally posted here:  

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Is Testing Its Emergency Systems Today. Expect Explosions