Jeff Bezos’ private spaceflight firm Blue Origin does it again, launching the reusable New Shepard rocket and landing it back on Earth last April 2 for the third time in less than five months.
In the unmanned test, the rocket and capsule vouched for reusable booster technology and launched into suborbital space from the West Texas test site. The capsule separated in space and went back to Earth through a parachute, while the rocket went down on a plume of fire, heralding its third vertical landing.
For the first time, Jeff Bezos publicly announced the date of a test flight via Twitter on April 1. He said that the New Shepard rocket’s BE-3 engine will restart quickly 3,600 feet above the ground or around 6 seconds prior to projected impact, something that will leave little room for error as the rocket descends back to the planet.
After the spectacle, Bezos tweeted again about the engine’s “flawless” restart and the “perfect booster landing.”
“[Crew capsule] touchdown confirmed,” he tweeted after confirming the parachutes deployed successfully, even promising a launch video as well as spectacular aerial views once these are available.
The successful recent launch – dubbed as “pushing the envelope” by the Amazon.com founder himself – followed the booster’s successful landing last Nov. 23 and Jan. 22.
This run featured an enhanced reaction control system algorithm, with cameras installed on flying drones to capture the potential “big performance win,” according to Bezos. Onboard the crew capsule were also two science experiments: the Box of Rocks Experiment (BORE) and the Collisions into Dust Experiment (COLLIDE).
The SETI-led BORE will simulate the movement of rocky soil on small asteroids, while the University of Central Florida-led COLLIDE will analyze the impacts between objects in zero gravity.
Blue Origin intends to blast commercial passengers off into space, with the New Shepard vehicles designed to fly six persons to more than 62 miles above Earth for minutes of weightlessness experience and a view of Earth against outer space.
Once it separates from the suborbital capsule, which descends and lands through parachute, the booster uses thrusters to travel vertically onto a landing pad, where it settles gently enough to be reused for succeeding launches.
The recyclability of the rocket is a crucial part of Blue Origin’s mission, as it will dramatically lower the cost of launches. The company’s rival, SpaceX, is also investing on reusable rocket technology for its Falcon 9 rockets.
Although the real money for his firm is currently in peddling rocket engines to United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK, Bezos is pursuing his childhood dreams of spaceflight. However, he has not announced the cost of space tourism flights, or if the project will convert into actual sales.
According to Bezos, he has already invested more than $500 million in Blue Origins – which aims to employ 1,200 individuals next year – since it launched in 2000.