Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin launches rocket in smooth test flight

Blue Origin, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, launched a New Shepard suborbital capsule from West Texas on Sunday, boosting a suite of microgravity experiments and an instrumented dummy astronaut known as Mannequin Skywalker to the edge of space in the company’s eighth test flight.

Perched atop a reusable booster powered by a single hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine, the New Shepard spacecraft blasted off from the company’s Van Horn, Texas, test facility at 1:06 p.m. EDT (GMT-4) and smoothly climbed away, generating 110,000 pounds of thrust and trailing a brilliant jet of flame.

Designed to carry up to six “space tourists” to altitudes above 62 miles, the widely recognized threshold of space, the unmanned New Shepard capsule separated from its booster, as planned, at an altitude of about 47 miles, before soaring on its own to a height of 351,000 feet, or 66.5 miles.

That’s nearly 20,000 feet higher than the normally targeted altitude in a bid to “expand the envelope” and gather additional flight data.

As it arced over to begin the long fall back to Earth, the capsule experienced four to five minutes of weightlessness before plunging back into the dense lower atmosphere, subjecting the spacecraft to heavy deceleration and about four times the normal force of gravity.

The booster, making its second flight, dropped back toward the launch site tail first, re-igniting the BE-3 engine and deploying four landing legs before settling to a landing on a concrete pad near the launch site about eight minutes after takeoff.

The New Shepard capsule, also making its second flight, completed a more leisurely descent, slowly falling under three large parachutes before ……….

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