It seems that 4th test flight of launch vehicle by Blue Origin, New Shepard, is getting close. According to some sources fourth mission of reusable rocket designed and manufactured by Company owned by Jeff Bezos is possible already in this month.
Previous three test flights (all successful) were proving that SpaceX is not only company on the market with reusable space vehicle. After launches and landings performed from Van Horn in Texas on 23 November 2015, 22 January 2016 and 4 April 2016 there was no doubts that next test flight will be performed already in first half of 2016. Now, according to Space.com, Blue Origin is planning next flight from their Texas facility. It will take place on June 2016, but flight plan covers something more than successful liftoff, flight and landing.
Engineers from Blue Origin decided that it will be good time to perform additional tests during reentry and descent. New Shepard capsule after reentry is deploying three drag parachutes which are responsible for reducing speed before extracting three main parachutes. They are necessary to perform soft landing-correct deployment is crucial for safety of crew members because for the moment New Shepard is not equipped in additional backup parachute system. During closing test flight, New Shepard will perform simulated failure of one drag parachute and one of main parachutes. According to Jeff Bezos (Space.com):
“We’re planning to demonstrate the redundancies built into the capsule on this re-flight of the vehicle by intentionally failing one drogue and one main parachute during descent,” Bezos wrote in an emailed newsletter update on June 3. “This should occur around 7 1/2 minutes into the flight, at an altitude of 24,000 feet [7,315 meters].”
This test will be really important mainly for future certificating New Shepard for manned flights. Three drag parachutes are reducing speed before deploying main parachutes. If speed will not be reduced main parachutes would be destroyed due the speed of falling capsule. Problems with drag parachute are possible due the accident or technical problems with deployment mechanism but it is quite unusual that all three parachutes will fail but problem with one is more possible. Test also assumes using two instead three main parachutes. Blue Origin would like to test capsule after landing with higher speed than it was designed for to show that their construction is safe even in case of anomaly with parachutes. During test structure of capsule will be exposed to higher speed during descent and increased shock during touch down; capsule will be also exposed to higher g force during landing and faster pressure change during descent after deploying only two from three drag parachutes. Test will show if there is a safety margin in construction of capsule in case of problems with parachutes and will also show capability of special amortizing structure attached in the bottom of capsule along with shock absorbers installed in seats and rocket thruster reducing speed just before touchdown in emergency situation. Objective of the test flight were unveiled by Jeff Bezos (according to Space.com):
“The crew capsule is equipped with a two-stage crushable structure that absorbs landing loads, along with seats that use a passive energy-absorbing mechanism to reduce peak loads to the occupant… As an added measure of redundancy, the crew capsule is equipped with a ‘retro rocket’ propulsive system that activates just a few feet above the ground to lower the velocity to approximately 3 ft/sec [0.9 m/sec] at touchdown. This final maneuver causes the dust cloud you can see when the crew capsule lands.”
It will be first heavy test for New Shepard and beginning of long way to certificating capsule and rocket for manned missions. In case of success, flight will also serve as advertisement of technical capabilities of Blue Origin to create space vehicle providing safe margin for crew members even in case of unpredicted anomaly.