The Rarest of Beasts
History was made today – we took a great leap towards reusable spaceflight. Earlier this afternoon, Blue Origin announced that its reusable rocket successfully completed a vertical landing on earth. Yes, a vertical landing.
The company’s craft, New Shepard, launched to the edge of space before successfully landing back on its landing site in West Texas. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos called the it “the rarest of beasts—a used rocket.” New Shepard reportedly flew a “flawless mission,” reaching an altitude of 100,534 meters (329,839 feet) and then executing a gentle, controlled landing only a few feet off of the center of pad.
You can see it in action in the video below.
A Reusable Rocket
Spaceflight isn’t just hard, it’s also terribly expensive. Of course, the price of fuel is one problem; however, the other issue is that a plethora of money in poured into tech that soon becomes unusable. New Shepard changes all of this.
The craft is a vertical takeoff and vertical landing space vehicle named after the first American in space, Alan Shepard. It is comprised of a crew capsule and a rocket booster that is capable of carrying six astronauts past 100 kilometers (62 miles). The crew capsule separates from the booster, which then descends to the landing pad using guided flight and – best of all – it can be reused.
The rocket booster is powered by a single BE-3 liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen engine, delivering 110,00 pounds of thrust. Prior to landing, the booster is able to re-ignite the engine to decelerate down to 7 km/h (4.4 mph), allowing for a gentle vertical landing. “Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again,” says Bezos.
Ultimately, reusable rockets are a game changer that will forever alter the cost structure of space travel. Any company that is able to develop this technology will be able to get supplies and people to space at just a fraction of the current cost, which is why SpaceX founder Elon Musk has also had his company working on the tech. However, to date, SpaceX hasn’t been able to successfully land after takeoff.
Notably, SpaceX is working with tech that is rather different than Blue Origin. Musk works to deliver supplies to the ISS, while Blue Origin aims to bring people to the edge of space. The different trips require different tech. Nevertheless, Musk, it seems, felt to need to offer some clarity in relation to the breakthrough…