Jeff Bezos owned Blue Origin has announced a successful test flight of the New Shepard booster and the Crew Capsule 2.0. New Shepard is a vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) launch vehicle, and is designed to be reusable, similar to the rockets used by SpaceX. This was the first test flight of the Crew Capsule 2.0, and the flight was dubbed M7 for "Mission 7". The New Shepard booster blasted off vertically, after which the Crew Capsule 2.0 separated from the craft after about two and a half minutes, reaching a height of 99.39 km.
The booster then returned to a ground, spending a few minutes in free fall. The engines fired up again as the rocket approached the launch pad, executing a flawless autonomous vertical landing in the process. The crew capsule then returned to the ground as well, with the use of three parachutes, and a retro thrust system for a soft landing. The mission did not have any personnel on board, but there were 12 commercial, academic and scientific payloads on board. The test flight took place at Blue Origin's launch facility in West Texas.
One of the test devices on board was developed by NASA to treat chest trauma in space. If the lung of an astronaut were to collapse, they would require an emergency evacuation to Earth for treatment. Such devices would be required for long medical support of long term deep space missions. The medical devices to treat collapsed lungs are dependent on gravity to function. The device collects blood in microgravity through a suction based mechanism, allows the lungs to continuously inflate, and collects blood for transfusion at the same time.
Dr Charles Marsh Cuttino who developed the device, said, "My hope is that in the future, this type of medical device will be able to save the life of an astronaut, to continue their mission of exploration. These types of medical treatment options could be required to explore the Moon and Mars."
The test is a part of a series of flights to build experience for the new Shepard system, to prepare the booster and the pressurised capsule for eventual manned flights. The Crew Capsule 2.0 has been designed to have the largest windows in space, occupying almost one-third of the height of the capsule, allowing the astronauts on board an immersive and clear view of the environment in space as well as the Earth below. The windows are 42.7 inches tall and 28.6 inches wide, with six windows in each capsule. For comparison, the windows on a Boeing 747 are 15.3 inches tall and 10.8 inches wide.
Eventually, Blue Origin hopes to send civilians into space, through a program that lasts less than two days. After arriving at the facility, the astronauts are put through a day-long training program to prepare for the flight, which is designed to be a fun experience in itself. The training includes information on the vehicles, getting familiar with the communications systems, and instructions on manoeuvring in a low gravity environment. There is also a mission simulation as part of the training program.
The tourists on board will then be launched into space and will be allowed to remove their safety harnesses to spend time in the low gravity environment and take in the view from the large windows. A signal will indicate when it is time to strap themselves back into their seats, after which the capsule will begin its descent to the Earth.
Tourists will be invited to an exclusive community of Blue Origin astronauts, and also receive videos, images and mementoes to remember the flight. A safety mechanism in the capsule allows it to rapidly move away from any potential hazard, to ensure the safety of the people on board.
Interested readers can sign up on the Blue Origin site to receive information when the tickets become available.