Blue Origin has almost always been mentioned after Space-X, as an after thought. Not anymore.
Today marks the third time in just over four months that Blue Origin has successfully launched and landed its New Shepard spacecraft and propulsion module. The launch and landing took place in a remote area of West Texas and is a significant step for a company that wants to dramatically cut the cost of access to space.
Before last November, when New Shepard made its historic first flight, it was unclear how difficult it would be to land a rocket vertically on the ground after sending it into space. But then Blue Origin did it. A month later SpaceX performed the same feat with its Falcon 9, a much larger and more powerful booster that had just delivered a payload into orbit.
That led to the next hurdle: could rockets be refurbished quickly and relatively inexpensively for subsequent flights? This was a stumbling block for the space shuttle, which required hundreds of millions of dollars in engine tests and retrofitting after every flight. Blue Origin has begun jumping this hurdle too. First, it flew the New Shepard module again in January, a turn-around time of about two months.
Blue Origin has always been more secretive than Space-X, announcing launches only after they have been successful; taking off from lonely west Texas, providing no realtime streaming if the launches.
And it has a different route to space, starting by examining the suborbital possibilities for research and tourism, before attempting full orbits. This allows them to use a somewhat simpler path to reusability because the engines do not need to be as powerful as the ones Space-X uses. This results in a lower velocity to attempt relanding from. And, most likely, more fuel to the attempt.
But now, for the first time, owner Jeff Bezos let people know beforehand that they were going to make a launch. And this is the third time the same booster/engine was used,
And, for the first time, they launched a capsule for humans that separated and landed safely.
Watch the amazing videos they took:
Image: J Brew (this was a test vehicle for relanding exercises)