However, all tests - from test 2 to test 8 - have seen the booster return for a safe pinpoint landing, followed shortly after by the capsule parachuting to a landing site nearby. Once it reached the threshold of space, the capsule fired its motors, shooting it away from the booster in a maneuver the company said would "push the rocket to its limits".
Wednesday's passenger was Mannequin Skywalker, an instrumented dummy in a blue flight suit that's flown before, plus science experiments.
While this flight was primarily meant to demonstrate the vehicle's escape system, the crew capsule carried eight research and technology demonstration payloads, similar to what the vehicle has done on previous suborbital test flights. Although some reports suggest the price of a ticket could be in the $200,000-to-$300,000 range, Blue Origin says no price has yet been set and no reservations are yet being taken.
The solid-fuel "pusher" abort motor, built by Aerojet Rocketdyne with subsystems provided by Blue Origin, is created to quickly ignite on command from flight controllers or an on-board computer if safety software detects an impending booster malfunction, rapidly propelling the capsule and its crew away from the rocket with a jarring burst of acceleration.
"Anything could have happened today, and this is the best possible outcome", said Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin's launch commentator.
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This launch was the ninth for the New Shepard program, and the third for this particular combination of crew capsule and propulsion module.
The reusable New Shepard rocket settles to a picture-perfect touchdown.
In a brief statement announcing Wednesday's flight, Blue Origin offered no further details on the objectives or the technical parameters for the planned high-altitude escape motor test. Its tickets cost $250,000. "Just another day at the office", she said. The experiment will record vehicle conditions including cabin pressure, temperature, CO2, acoustic conditions, and acceleration.
The New Shepard rocket blasted off from West Texas on the company's latest test flight. If successful, the demonstration is expected to move the company a step closer to flying people - first its own employees, then paying passengers - on trips to space lasting several minutes, offering the experience of weightlessness and spectacular views. The hardware used in previous tests has been retired and put on exhibit at Blue Origin's Florida rocket factory, where the orbital-class New Glenn rocket will be built. The New Glenn will compete with United Launch Alliance's upcoming Vulcan rocket and with SpaceX boosters in the US launch market.