Just as the vehicle was passing through max Q – the area of greatest aerodynamic pressure – the abort command was issued. Credit: Blue Origin
Is Blue Origin imbued with the spiritual DNA of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, because they sure know how to make the improbable happen. While the company was fairly certain of a successful outcome for the New Shepard spacecraft in the in-flight abort test, the prognosis for the booster was far less rosy.
“This test will probably destroy the booster,” stated company founder Jeff Bezos in an email release early in September 2016.
Really, Mr. Bezos…really?
As if in defiance of those predictions, the booster continued its flight, even after being blasted with 70,000 pounds of thrust from the abort motor and having to fly with a decidedly un-aerodynamic leading edge.
The spacecraft rapidly zipped away from the “stricken” booster, soon reaching its apogee then returning to Earth under parachute. Other than the firing of the abort motor itself and not reaching space, the decent can be described as nominal and uneventful. This was the primary goal of this test, and demonstrated the vehicle’s capability to protect craft and crew should a problem occur with the rocket.
The booster, now free of its 8,000 pound spacecraft, actually had to reduce throttle on its lone BE-3 engine so as to not over-boost and go higher than intended. At this point in the flight profile, it was no different than the four previous New Shepard missions.
With little drama, the booster landed under its own power, capping off a successful test and earning itself a place of honor in a museum.
So what’s the genesis of my consternation? Well, not only do I write for The Liftoff Report, but I also provide content for SpaceFlight Insider, and was asked to write about this test. Now, you have to understand that, though I love all things spaceflight, it’s not my career — and I would be at work when the test occurred.
However, being the clever person that I am, I pre-wrote the piece, assuming that the booster would be lost in the process. Somewhat covering my bases, I included two scenarios: booster breaks-up at altitude after abort motor fires, or the booster survives the abort but the flight computer cannot regain control authority and the booster smacks into the desert floor.
So, being the dutiful writer that I am, I signed-off on the piece, turning it over to the editors to add details and pictures at the conclusion of the test. Smart, right?
Thankfully, the editors at SpaceFlight Insider were able to quickly modify the piece to match reality. With that, a hearty “Thanks!” to the staff at SFI for making the necessary corrections, and a big round of congratulations to Blue Origin.
Blue Origin may have made a fibber out of me, but I’m OK with that.