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Blue Origin Reuses Reusable Rocket

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 22-Jan-2016
Updated: 22-Jan-2016 11:35 PM

Blue Origin relaunched and relanded the same New Shepard rocket that the company used to demonstrate that feat last November.  The rocket reached an altitude of 101.7 kilometers (333,582 feet) before returning to Earth, jettisoning its unoccupied crew capsule along the way.  The capsule landed separately under parachutes.

The New Shepard suborbital rocket launches and lands vertically.  Blue Origin, owned by Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos, posted video and other images of the flight on its website.


The same New Shepard booster that flew into space and then landed vertically in November 2015 has now flown and landed again.  Photo and caption:  Blue Origin.

Blue Origin, along with SpaceX, is trying to develop reusable rockets in the belief that reusability will lower launch costs.  The theory is controversial because it is dependent on factors such as the cost involved in refurbishing a rocket to fly again and the number of launches across which the costs can be amortized. Space aficionados can debate what vehicle deserves the honor of being known as the first reusable rocket -- the X-15, DC-X and SpaceShipOne are candidates -- but NASA's space shuttle was the only operational reusable launch vehicle (its External Tanks were not reused, but the airplane-like orbiters and solid rocket boosters were).  The space shuttle did not result in lower launch costs, however..

Nevertheless, the technical feat of launching and landing a rocket is noteworthy.   Blue Origin and SpaceX are competing for headlines in that regard.  SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral, FL in December, although three attempts to land on an autonomous drone ship at sea have failed, most recently last Sunday.  SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk points out that landing the first stage of a rocket sending a satellite into orbit is much more challenging than a suborbital excursion like that experienced in the New Shepard tests. 

Bezos and Musk have similar goals -- expanding opportunities for humans to fly into space by making spaceflight affordable.   Bezos said in a statement today that Blue Origin's vision is for "millions of people living and working in space."  Musk's long term goal is sending large numbers of humans to Mars.

In addition to the New Shepard rocket, Blue Origin is developing new rocket engines that use a new type of rocket fuel -- liquefied natural gas (methane).  United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Blue Origin have teamed together on developing ULA's new Vulcan rocket using Blue Origin's BE-4 rocket engine.  Bezos also said today that full-engine testing of the BE-4 will begin this year. 

ULA President Tory Bruno tweeted his congratulations to Bezos on today's launch and landing:


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