Blue Origin passed another milestone in its aerospace efforts on Wednesday, successfully testing the escape system for its New Shepard rocket in the air for the first time. Both the capsule and the booster survived, defying expectations that the rocket booster would explode in the air or crash down to earth.
The New Shepard had already successfully launched and landed four times, but the escape system puts new pressure on the booster. When it’s activated, the capsule ignites a built-in motor to separate from the booster and protect any human passengers inside. It then deploys parachutes to safely lower back to the ground.
The capsule’s motor could potentially damage the booster and cause it to lose control, but that’s not what happened. Instead, the booster continued to shoot up on its own after the capsule detached before eventually returning to the ground using its engines to guide it.
The New Shepard is capable of traveling 62 miles above the surface of Earth, which is where space is considered to begin. Up to six humans riding in the capsule will be able to experience weightlessness for several minutes before returning to the planet. Blue Origin plans to begin its first manned tests next year before opening flights up to paying customers in 2018.