Max Q In-Flight Escape (slow motion)

On October 5, 2016, we conducted an in-flight escape test of New Shepard’s full-envelope escape system at Blue Origin’s West Texas Launch Site.

This flight was our toughest test yet. We intentionally triggered an escape of the crew capsule in flight and at the most stressing condition: maximum dynamic pressure through transonic velocities. The test was conducted with the same reusable New Shepard booster that we had already flown four times.

Redundant separation systems severed the crew capsule from the booster at the same time we ignited the escape motor. The escape motor vectored thrust to steer the capsule to the side, out of the booster’s path. The high acceleration portion of the escape lasted less than two seconds, but by then the capsule was hundreds of feet away and diverging quickly. It traversed twice through transonic velocities – the most difficult control region – during the acceleration burn and subsequent deceleration. The capsule then coasted, stabilized by reaction control thrusters, until it started descending. Its three drogue parachutes deployed near the top of its flight path, followed shortly thereafter by main parachutes.

The capsule’s escape motor slammed the booster with 70,000 pounds of off-axis force delivered by searing hot exhaust. The aerodynamic shape of the vehicle quickly changed from leading with the conical capsule to leading with the ring fin, and this all happened at Max Q.

The booster was not explicitly engineered to survive an in-flight escape. The fact that the booster survived the escape, climbed to apogee and returned to execute its fifth controlled vertical landing is testament to the overall robustness inherent in its design.

Gradatim Ferociter!

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