Blue Origin's Crew Capsule Aced Parachute-Failure Test, Jeff Bezos Says

New Shepard Crash Ring
The crushable ring on the underside of Blue Origin's New Shepard crew capsule can compress upon impact, acting as a decelerator. Here, the crushable ring is seen after a June 19, 2016, test flight that used only two out of three parachutes on the capsule. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

Jeff Bezos' private spaceflight company Blue Origin may be trying to assure potential customers of the safety of a trip to space.

During a test flight of its New Shepard vehicle in June, the company intentionally disabled one of three parachutes that guide the crew capsule back to the ground following a trip to suborbital space. Today, in an email to subscribers of a company email newsletter, the company's CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, said that the capsule came in slightly faster than it would have if all three chutes had deployed, but that the landing was otherwise fairly typical. 

Besides the three parachutes, New Shepard is slowed in its descent by a retrorocket that fires just before the capsule hits the ground. Bezos' email also provided pictures of the "crushable ring" on the bottom of the capsule, which can help decelerate the craft if it hits the ground too fast (acting sort of like the bumper on a car). [Watch Blue Origin's Capsule Land With Only 2 Parachutes] founder Jeff Bezos leads Blue Origin, a commercial aerospace firm that hopes to send people on suborbital and orbital space trips. See how Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft works here. (Image credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

"Even with one chute out, the crushable barely crushed," wrote Bezos, who is also founder and CEO of (The emails are not posted online, but signup is available on the company website.) 

"When new, the crushable is about 5.5 inches [14 centimeters] high and can crush down to less than 1 inch [0.4 cm] high, providing a constant deceleration force as it crushes. After the mission, the crushable was still over 5 inches [12.7 cm] high along nearly the entire circumference of the ring," Bezos wrote.

During the June 19 test, the crew capsule descended toward the ground at 23 mph (37 km/h) before the retrorocket was fired, as opposed to 16 mph (25.7 km/h) which is typical when all three parachutes are functioning, Bezos wrote.  

New Shepard is Blue Origin's suborbital vehicle, which includes a rocket and a capsule that will carry human passengers on suborbital flights — meaning the capsule never escapes Earth's gravity and must fall back down to the surface. These flights, lasting only a few hours, will take the capsule to an altitude where passengers can see the curvature of the Earth and experience weightlessness, according to company advertising materials.

Segments of the crushable ring from the underside of Blue Origin's New Shepard crew capsule, following a June 19, 2016, test landing. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

Tickets will be made available to average citizens who wish to participate in one of these jaunts, which is an exciting prospect but also a scary one for many people. Spaceflight — even suborbital spaceflight — is dangerous, as was so vividly demonstrated on Oct. 31, 2014, when a pilot for the private spaceflight company Virgin Galactic was killed and another severely injured during a test flight of the company's suborbital spaceplane, SpaceShipTwo. 

Blue Origin's representatives have also announced the company's intention to sell tickets aboard New Shepard to anyone who can afford the as-yet-unannounced price tag. (Unlike Virgin Galactic, it has not initiated any presale of such tickets.) 

Blue Origin's June 19 test offered audiences a look at the safety of the crew capsule in the event of a parachute failure, and Bezos' email explored that point further. 

"We’ve designed the capsule to ensure astronaut safety not just for a failure of one parachute, but even for a failure of two parachutes," he wrote. "In addition to the retrorocket system and the crushable ring, there is an energy-absorbing mechanism mounted underneath each seat."

The rocket portion of New Shepard is designed to be reusable, meaning it can land vertically after takeoff, and it can be used for more launches. So far, Blue Origin has reused one of its rockets in four successful test launches and landings. Bezos has said in interviews that he thinks rocket reusability is key to driving down the cost of spaceflight, and eventually having "millions of people" living and working in space.

Blue Origin is also working on an orbital rocket that will use the company's BE-4 engine. The veteran space launch provider United Launch Alliance has entered into a partnership with Blue Origin to use the engine in its next-generation rockets. ULA's current launch vehicles include the Atlas V rocket, which utilizes the Russian-made RD-180 engine.

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Calla Cofield
Senior Writer

Calla Cofield joined's crew in October 2014. She enjoys writing about black holes, exploding stars, ripples in space-time, science in comic books, and all the mysteries of the cosmos. Prior to joining Calla worked as a freelance writer, with her work appearing in APS News, Symmetry magazine, Scientific American, Nature News, Physics World, and others. From 2010 to 2014 she was a producer for The Physics Central Podcast. Previously, Calla worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (hands down the best office building ever) and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. Calla studied physics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and is originally from Sandy, Utah. In 2018, Calla left to join NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory media team where she oversees astronomy, physics, exoplanets and the Cold Atom Lab mission. She has been underground at three of the largest particle accelerators in the world and would really like to know what the heck dark matter is. Contact Calla via: E-Mail – Twitter