Battered Blue Origin rocket survives test without exploding

Jeff Bezos' rocket company conducts the first successful in-flight escape test since the Apollo era and lands its rocket booster safely in Texas on Wednesday.

Eric Mack Contributing Editor
Eric Mack has been a CNET contributor since 2011. Eric and his family live 100% energy and water independent on his off-grid compound in the New Mexico desert. Eric uses his passion for writing about energy, renewables, science and climate to bring educational content to life on topics around the solar panel and deregulated energy industries. Eric helps consumers by demystifying solar, battery, renewable energy, energy choice concepts, and also reviews solar installers. Previously, Eric covered space, science, climate change and all things futuristic. His encrypted email for tips is ericcmack@protonmail.com.
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Eric Mack
2 min read
Watch this: Watch the New Shepard rocket land back on Earth

Jeff Bezos will get to put the first Blue Origin New Shepard rocket into a museum display after all. The battered booster landed at his private space company's launch site Wednesday morning just 2 miles from where it had launched less than 15 minutes earlier following a successful in-flight escape test.

The rocket navigated back to the West Texas landing pad shortly after separating from an empty crew capsule, which used a separate escape motor to maneuver itself away before parachutes deployed and it drifted to a safe, dusty landing on the desert floor below. The sequence is all part of an escape procedure that could be used on a real mission in the future if any sort of anomaly is detected during launch to protect passengers and crew from a malfunctioning rocket.


Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket lands after its fifth flight, one it wasn't supposed to survive.

Video screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

This is the first in-flight escape test of a spacecraft we've seen since the days of the Apollo program.

The launch was originally set for around 8 a.m. PT, but as the countdown reached about two minutes to go, the kickoff went into a series of holds while some of New Shepard's systems were double-checked. Launch finally happened about 30 minutes later.

The New Shepard rocket that carried out the test had flown four successful test missions previously and will now be retired. As with its competitor SpaceX, a central part of the Blue Origin business model is to drive down the cost of accessing space by recovering and reusing rockets.

Although Bezos and Blue Origin were hopeful the booster could be recovered, they had set low expectations for the rocket to survive the test.

Bezos Expeditions Apollo 11 engine recovery (pictures)

See all photos

"In the more likely event that we end up sacrificing the booster in service of this test," Bezos, who is CEO of Amazon and owns The Washington Post along with Blue Origin, wrote in a September blog post. "Its impact with the desert floor will be most impressive."

That dramatic ending to Wednesday's test did not come to pass. Instead, Bezos adds another historic rocket to posterity's collection, along with the Apollo 11 engine he helped recover from the bottom of the ocean.

You can watch the entire webcast below: