Billionaire Jeffrey P. Bezos’s space-exploration company Blue Origin launched and landed an unmanned rocket Sunday while running a parachute failure test, a key step in checking the safety of the firm’s New Shepard vessel before sending it to space with astronauts aboard.
The mission was the fourth time the same Blue Origin rocket has flown to suborbital space and returned to Earth intact. It was the first time testers intentionally caused a failure in the landing equipment of the rocket’s capsule; the purpose of such a trial is to test backup plans meant to protect the vessel and its passengers.
The capsule, which would carry astronauts on a manned mission, landed successfully in West Texas on Sunday at 9:46 a.m., after two instead of a typical three parachutes deployed. The capsule and the rocket split after takeoff and landed separately.
The rocket uses wings and refires its engine to slow its descent. It landed before the capsule, at 9:43 a.m., about seven minutes after takeoff. Streamed online, it was the first Blue Origin launch to be broadcast live. New Shepard made its first test flight in April 2015.
Bezos, who founded Amazon.com and owns The Washington Post, and billionaire Elon Musk want to reduce the cost of space exploration by building rockets that are reusable. Blue Origin and Musk’s SpaceX have conducted frequent tests in the past couple of years.
SpaceX rockets could be used to deliver people, supplies and equipment to space. The smaller Blue Origin rockets would be used to bring tourists to the edge of space for a few minutes of weightlessness. The company aims to send crews into space next year and expects to sell seats to tourists in 2018 for $250,000 to $350,000.