Blue Origin safely launched and landed one of its reusable rockets on Sunday, June 19, marking the fourth time the company has succeeded in executing the maneuver.
The Jeff Bezos-owned space company sent its unmanned New Shepard spacecraft into space from launch area in West Texas Sunday morning. After taking its crew capsule into suborbit, both the rocket and the capsule returned to Earth in two separate landings.
Mission controllers were able to safely guide the New Shepard's booster to hit its designated landing spot 8 minutes after blasting off. The crew capsule, on the other hand, descended back to Earth about a minute later after the booster through the help of two parachutes.
Blue Origin's primary goal for Sunday's launch was to find out if its crew capsule is capable of making a safe landing using only two of its three main parachutes.
In a post on Twitter, Bezos credits the successful launch and return of the New Shepard and its capsule to careful engineering combined with some luck from his cowboy boots that carried the space company's motto "Gradatim Ferociter," which is Latin for "Step by step, ferociously."
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) June 19, 2016
New Shepard's Flight
During the launch, Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket was able to reach a peak altitude of 331,501 feet. This means the spacecraft soared to 62.7 miles above Earth's surface, well beyond the 62-mile boundary that exists between the planet and space.
While the rocket's crew capsule is capable of making a safe landing even with only one main parachute, it has been fitted with three parachutes to enhance its chances for a successful touchdown.
Ariane Cornell, a representative from the space company's Strategy and Business Development division who co-hosted the live webcast of the New Shepard's flight, said that the event was "an impeccable test mission" for their team.
Compared to other space rockets, the New Shepard is not meant to blast off into orbit. Its launch system is instead designed to take its six-man crew into suborbital space.
Once it achieves its objective, the spacecraft's crew capsule is set to parachute its way back to Earth, while its booster is engineered to make a vertical landing through the help of its BE-3 rocket engine that it uses to blast itself off into space.
Blue Origin envisions sending people on tourism flights into space onboard its New Shepard spacecraft, though it is yet to reveal its projected ticket prices for such trips.
The company said the space flights will allow passengers to experience the weightlessness of space for several minutes as well as see the planet from suborbit through the spacecraft's large windows.
"You have no idea how badly I want to fly on this right now," Geoff Huntington, one of Blue Origin's engineers and co-host of the New Shepard webcast, said.
Aside from taking passengers on joy rides into space, Blue Origin also plans to have its rocket carry research payloads during flights.
Meanwhile, Blue Origin's rival in the space industry SpaceX also successfully launched its own reusable Falcon 9 rocket into space on Thursday, June 16. However, it encountered problems during its return flight to Earth, causing it to be lost while making a touchdown at sea.
SpaceX believes the missed landing could likely have been caused by the Falcon 9 experiencing extremely high forces and temperatures when it penetrated Earth's atmosphere during its return. The reusable rocket failed to hit its mark on a droneship located in the Atlantic Ocean.