Spaceflight company Blue Origin surprised the world with a perfectly executed in-flight escape test. The purpose of this test was to illustrate that the crew capsule of Blue Origin's suborbital New Shepard rocket can safely separate from the booster in case something goes wrong after launch.
The capsule separated at an altitude of around 16,000 feet, it fired its engines for a second or two and deployed its parachutes.
On October 5, 2016, New Shepard performed an in-flight test of the capsule’s full-envelope escape system, designed to quickly propel the crew capsule to safety if a problem is detected with the booster. At T+0:45 and 16,053 feet (4,893 meters), the capsule separated and the escape motor fired, pushing the capsule safely away from the booster. Reaching an apogee of 23,269 feet (7,092 meters), the capsule then descended under parachutes to a gentle landing on the desert floor. After the capsule escape, the booster continued its ascent, reaching an apogee of 307,458 feet (93,713 meters). At T+7:29, the booster executed a controlled, vertical landing back at the West Texas Launch Site, completing its fifth and final mission.
The safe landing of the capsule was as expected, but as Gizmodo reports the recovery of the rocket was a surprise as everyone, including Blue Origin, expected it would be destroyed in the test.
Although Blue Origin has tested its launch escape system on the launchpad before, this is the first time such a system has been tested, by anyone, in flight since the 1960s. It was almost too perfect.
SpaceX expected to test in-flight abort in 2017
SpaceX is expected to perform an in-flight abort test of its Dragon 2 capsule sometime in 2017. Whereas Blue Origin will be limited to suborbital flights until the arrival of its New Glenn rocket a few years from now, SpaceX may launch its first manned flight to the ISS as early as late next year.
Boeing wants to get into the race to Mars
On a related note, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg told Bloomberg he sees space tourism taking off in the next 20 years and he vowed to beat Elon Musk's SpaceX to Mars:
“I’m convinced the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding a Boeing rocket,” Muilenburg said at the Chicago event on innovation, which was sponsored by the Atlantic magazine.
Personally, I think this is little more than a headline grab. He's probably talking about the NASA Space Launch System (SLS), which uses Boeing as a contractor and doesn't stack up well against the more ambitious plans of SpaceX