NASA and commercial partner Blue Origin have announced that the company has conducted a successful pad escape test as of October 19 at the Blue Origin West Texas launch site. Blue Origin was able to fire its pusher-escape motor and launch a full-scale suborbital crew capsule from the simulated propulsion module. The test was part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
Blue Origin is a NASA Commercial Crew Development Round 2 participant and the Space Act Agreement funded the work. The goal of the program is to develop and deliver a reliable US commercial crew space transportation system providing safe, reliable, and cost-effective access to the ISS and low-Earth orbit. Once testing and development of commercial crew modules is complete and approved, NASA will contract with private companies to transport astronauts into space.
During the test, the suborbital crew capsule travels to an altitude of 2307 feet. Once at that altitude three parachutes were deployed and the crew capsule floated to a soft landing 1630 feet away from the simulated propulsion module. The pusher escape system was developed by Blue Origin to allow a crew capsule escape in the event of an emergency during any phase of ascent for the company's suborbital New Shepherd system.
The results of the test will be used to shape the design of the escape system for the company's planned space vehicle. The system Blue Origin has developed is expected to allow full reusability of the launch vehicle, which is different from previous NASA systems. The escape systems used during the Mercury and Apollo programs required NASA to jettison the unused escape system. By reusing the escape system in future flights the cost of putting astronauts and cargo into space is cheaper.