Blue Origin's New Shepard makes historic touch down

Blue Origin's New Shepard makes historic touch down
Blue Origin's New Shepard during an earlier flight
Blue Origin's New Shepard during an earlier flight
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Blue Origin's New Shepard during an earlier flight
Blue Origin's New Shepard during an earlier flight
Blue Origin's rocket segment successfully touched down in West Texas
Blue Origin's rocket segment successfully touched down in West Texas

In April, Blue Origin, the aerospace company established by Jeff Bezos, successfully conducted the first test flight of its New Shepard space vehicle. While the launch was a success, the propulsion module was unable to be recovered as planned due to a loss of pressure in the hydraulic system on descent. But sticking to the old adage of, if you don't first succeed, try, try again, Blue Origin has now successfully launched and landed a re-usable rocket designed to takepaying customers on a suborbital flight to the edge of space.

With the goal of a sustainable approach not only to space tourism, but also space exploration in general, the Blue Origin endeavour has been designed from the ground up with economicsustainability as one of the driving factors, with both launchvehicle and spacecraft, collectively known as New Shepard, boastingthe ability to be reused multiple times.

The BE-3 engine thatpowers the craft is capable of outputting 110,000 pounds of thrust,serving as both the ascent thruster and a controlled descent tool.During the recent test, which took place on Nov. 23 at the company's launch facility in West Texas, upon re-entering the atmosphere and jettisoning the space vehicle, the thruster section was initially stabilized by passing airthrough a ring at the top of the launch vehicle, centering the airpressure.

Then, whilst stillfalling at roughly the speed of sound, the thruster block deployed aseries of eight air brakes, cutting its speed to 623 km/h (387 mph). With its velocityreduced, the ascent phase saw exterior fins powered by hydraulicactuators combat crosswinds of up to 119 mph (191.5 km/ph) and navigate the vehicle to a position 1,524 m (5,000 ft) above the landing pad. As the landing gear deployed, the BE-3 thruster re-ignited and throttled up, allowing the booster to touch down at the launch pad on four landing struts at a gentle 4.4 mph (7.1 km/ph).

Blue Origin's rocket segment successfully touched down in West Texas
Blue Origin's rocket segment successfully touched down in West Texas

Aside from serving as aproof of concept for Blue Origin's approach, the successful completion of thetest has allowed the company to beat SpaceX's Falcon 9 first stagethruster in the race to create a reusable launch vehicle. SpaceX came close to achieving the feat in April, successfully touching down on the deck of a drone barge before tipping over.

However, for this to bea fair comparison it must be noted that the Blue Origin launchvehicle is only designed to boost its spacecraft to the edge of spacefor a short time, while the Falcon 9 launch vehicle rocket is farmore heavy duty, aimed instead at facilitating a full orbitalinsertion, only then (theoretically) returning safely to its launchpad for refurbishment and re-use – something which Elon Musk was quick to point out via twitter.

Competition aside, theattempt to cut costs via the use of reusable launch vehiclecomponents will prove to be a key factor in the democratization ofspaceflight.

Video of the touch down can be viewed below.

Source: Blue Origin

Historic Rocket Landing

John in Brisbane
Ok that is pretty cool. Spacex are on a different trajectory. Dad joke? So good to see more stuff like this though. Less DARPA, more epic stuff!
Brian M
Still seems a crazy way to design a reusable vehicle, relying on an engine for a safe touch down. Lot better to take a space shuttle approach i.e. Once through re-entry you fly back down.
There is a saying in aviation that if it looks right it probably is right - Shepard fails that test but...... who knows, good luck to them!
Stephen N Russell
The future for Manned Commercial Space has arrived on 11-25-15. History has been made & worldwide thanks giving toast to BO. Produce boosters for manned space.
The author has made a very silly comparison of the New Shepard to the Falcon 9. This reveals either a serious lack of knowledge by the author or an anti-SpaceX bias.
The suborbital New Shepard is nowhere near the first. The X-15 has done it numerous times as did the Space Shuttle. But in 2012 the SpaceX Grasshopper --- the closest comparison to the New Shepard ---has not only done it but refueled and reused at least six times.
The Falcon 9 is not a good comparison because it is a serious orbital/outer space booster that can easily loft communications satellites into geosynchronous orbit. The Dragon capsule already in use has been to the ISS and recovered multiple times. Not only that but where ULA charges about $380 per launch, SpaceX charges $90 million and could do it for $60 million is the Pentagon and NADSA removed restrictions that were intended to keep competition from being able to bid.
The BO booster, on the other hand can only go to the very edge of space and is intended to give rich kids an expensive 4 minutes of weightlessness. The "vomit comet" can already do that.
Marc Stinebaugh
Except that, SpaceX DID do this, a while ago. There are videos of their rocket taking off, basically hoovering, then descending, and landing. Are we going to pretend this never happened?
Douglas Bennett Rogers
This could greatly reduce recovery cost.