Blue Origin, a spacecraft company founded by Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, just did what SpaceX failed at doing last week and successfully launched and landed a suborbital rocket. Known as New Shepard, the spacecraft reached a maximum altitude of 333,582 feet, which is approximately 63 miles above the Earth's surface, before gently landing back at Blue Origin's test facility located in Texas. Accomplishing this feat makes New Shepard the first commercial vertical rocket to launch into space twice.
It also signifies that Blue Origin has beaten its competitor SpaceX in the race to manufacture reusable space rockets. SpaceX has had two attempts at landing a space craft and it has been successful just once, nonetheless despite both company’s similar ambitions the rockets used by SpaceX and Blue Origin are both very different in design. While Blue Origin’s rocket is designed to take future passengers into suborbital space it isn’t designed to stay for too long in space.
SpaceX’s rocket on the other hand is designed to carry cargo into orbit and not only last longer in space, but go further into space than Blue Origin’s rocket. These differences in functionality and design shouldn’t however undermine the fact that Blue Origin has been able to relaunch and land its rocket in such a short turnaround period. To make this happen the company has had to make some modifications to the rocket such as replacing the parachutes in the crew capsule. These new parachutes enable the capsule to have a smoother landing. In addition to the new parachutes Blue Origin also replaced the pyro igniters in the rocket and updated the software running the rocket. These modifications played a key role in making sure that the rocket has had a seamless landing.
Reusable rockets have been heavily touted as a way to reduce costs by recycling the use of rockets instead of having to build entirely new rockets for each mission. In a statement announcing the launch Jeff Bezos expressed his fondness for powered vertical landings, such as the one employed in the launching and landing of the New Shepard rocket and he also stated that the company is in the process of developing a rocket much larger than New Shepard. Bezos went on to state that Blue Origin’s ultimate goal is to make it possible for “millions of people” to work and live in space.
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