Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Rocket Took Off and Landed—Again
The race to reusable spacecraft just heated up again. Today, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin accomplished a first among firsts: It launched and brought back to Earth the same New Shepard rocket that it landed for the first time back in November. And not just the same design—the same physical rocket. You can expect a lot more firsts in the coming months, as Blue Origin attempts to launch and re-land the New Shepard over and over again. Every successive landing is another big step toward the future of reusable rockets.
Blue Origin’s accomplishment comes just a month after its competitor SpaceX successfully landed one of its own rockets, the Falcon 9, on a landing pad at Cape Canaveral—and less than a week after it failed to land a second Falcon 9 on an autonomous barge in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
The companies are neck and neck, but there’s an important distinction between their feats: SpaceX landed its rocket from low Earth orbit, while both of Blue Origin’s landings came back from a lower apogee of about 100 km, the so-called Karman line that divides space from the Earth’s atmosphere. Rhett Allain does a great job explaining why coming back from orbit is harder. SpaceX has said that it will likely never reuse the Falcon 9 that made its first landing—it’s somewhat of a historical artifact now—but they have been testing the rocket to see how it might have fared during a re-launch.
Both companies are working toward true reusability in a bid to make space launches and travel more affordable. If you can reuse a rocket, each trip from Earth only costs you the fuel it takes to leave—not the tens of millions it takes to build a new ship. In the short term, that makes launches to places like the International Space Station much more economical. But Blue Origin states the long-term plan well at the end of their sizzle reel: “Our vision: millions of people living and working in space. You can’t get there by throwing the hardware away.”
While Blue Origin just got itself some major bragging rights, SpaceX is leading the polls in, let’s say, user engagement. An airspace closure near Blue Origin’s west Texas proving grounds fueled rumors of a test on Thursday, but the company declined to comment when WIRED asked about some curious contrails that appeared on Friday morning. Instead, the company waited to release footage—in its typical high-production fashion—until late Friday night. SpaceX, on the other hand, has chosen to stream footage of its launches live, including live footage of that one successful landing. Still, it’s hard to complain about a precious media strategy when you get to watch the first truly reusable rocket come back to Earth upright and in one piece.
This article is from: