In a post to email subscribers, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos today detailed the results of the company’s recent test launch in which it deliberately failed one of three parachutes which bring its suborbital crew capsule safely to ground.
Under ordinary circumstances, Blue Origin’s New Shepard capsule descents to land under the canopy of three brightly colored parachutes, reducing the craft’s descent velocity to 16 mph. An expendable solid retrorocket then fires immediately before landing, reducing the speed to an entirely manageable 3 mph. That figure is then brought to zero by an eight segment crushable aluminum honeycomb ring which encircles the craft’s base.
Rapidly advancing towards an initial crewed flight which is expected to take place next year, Blue Origin wanted to find out what happens if one of the three chutes fails to deploy or becomes fouled. Apparently, not much at all.
From Jeff Bezos:
“On this last mission, with one chute intentionally failed, the capsule was descending at 23 mph before firing its retrorocket. The retrorocket took out most of that velocity, and the crushable ring did the rest of the job. Below, you can see a couple of pictures of the crushable after the flight test. The first picture shows it mounted under the vehicle after we lifted it off the ground post-flight. The second picture shows a side view of the eight segments after we removed them from the vehicle. Even with one chute out, the crushable barely crushed. When new, the crushable is about 5.5 inches high and can crush down to less than one inch high, providing a constant deceleration force as it crushes. After the mission, the crushable was still over 5 inches high along nearly the entire circumference of the ring.”
Bezos goes on to point out that the capsule is actually designed to protect occupants from a two parachute failure scenario, with the additional margin being provided by shock absorbing systems in each astronaut’s seat.