Blue Origin managed to launch and bring back a reusable rocket, opening up new avenues to economical space flights.
Jeff Bezos’ private space company, Blue Origin, announced Tuesday morning that it had successfully completed a round trip of a reusable rocket. The spacecraft went up with a payload and returned to Earth without a traditional splashdown.
Blue Origin completed a trial of its first-stage rocket, New Shepard, to an altitude of 62 miles and brought it back in one piece. While there are rockets as well as spacecraft that are reused, Bezos’ rocket managed a vertical landing in a designated region. Needless to say, this is a huge milestone for the rapidly approaching era of reusable rockets and space tourism. The ability to land a rocket perfectly will significantly reduce the cost of spaceflight, thereby making space flights a little less expensive.
While this is just one reusable rocket, Blue Origin plans to build an entire fleet. A whole fleet of reusable rockets could allow companies to ditch the multi-million dollar rockets that are good for a single flight. Once fully developed, these re-serviceable rockets could be ready to take people up in space within a very short span of time.
The New Shepard rocket was also carrying a small spacecraft. The miniature capsule, mounted atop the rocket, has been designed to eventually shuttle six customers into suborbital space, reported Yahoo.
— Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield) November 24, 2015
The reusable rocket built by Blue Origin beat Elon Musk’s SpaceX, despite being a relatively new-comer to the field of space flights. Though SpaceX has flown multiple missions to the International Space Station, the company hasn’t succeeded in landing its Falcon rocket on a platform. During numerous test flights, which involved getting the Falcon rocket to land on a specially-built barge, the rocket either tipped over or crashed upon impact, reported the Daily Mail.
With Blue Origin entering the space race, there are now three private companies that are vying for the ultimate goal of sending people to space and bringing them back in an affordable and reusable rocket. While Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ founded Blue Origin, Richard Branson founded Virgin Galactic, and Elon Musk founded SpaceX. All the three companies are busy developing reusable rockets. While the primary intention might be the lucrative space tourism, the companies assure their rockets would be used for scientific missions, as well.
Blue Origin confirmed its New Shepherd reached its planned test altitude of 329,839ft (101km). Thereafter, the rocket detached its payload and dropped to earth. On the way, the rocket corrected its trajectory, reoriented itself, and made a successful landing in Texas. Except for the badly scorched metal at the base, the rocket did not sustain any damage and managed to land on its feet like a perfectly trained Olympic athlete. After the successful trial, Bezos tweeted the following.
WATCH: Jeff Bezos's company Blue Origin launches and lands a rocket pic.twitter.com/aGblr1YPdm
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) November 25, 2015
The success of the reusable rocket prompted Elon Musk to tweet his congratulations to the Blue Origin team.
Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2015
However, Musk did point out a crucial difference between what his company is trying to achieve and what Blue Origin’s New Shepherd achieved.
Getting to space needs ~Mach 3, but GTO orbit requires ~Mach 30. The energy needed is the square, i.e. 9 units for space and 900 for orbit.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2015
Till now, all the rockets have shot their payloads to space in a very similar manner. A traditional rocket, upon spending its fuel, would plummet back to Earth, pretty much like stone. Having completed its one and only flight, it would be all but useless.
What separates Blue Origin’s rocket from the others is that it didn’t fall aimlessly. Instead, it was guided toward a landing pad, where it re-ignited its engines, hovered briefly above the ground, and finally touched down softly on the pad, remaining upright and intact, reported Space. The super-soft landing allows the rocket to be used multiple times, albeit after a thorough safety check. Needless to say, the ability to quickly reuse a rocket to send another bunch of eagerly waiting space tourists will significantly drive down the cost of spaceflight, said the company through a blog post, written by Jeff Bezos.
“Rockets have always been expendable. Not anymore. Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts, a used rocket. This flight validates our vehicle architecture and design.”
Blue Origin has certainly changed the dynamics of space-flight by successfully developing a reusable rocket.
[Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images]