Washington-based Blue Origin proved yesterday in Van Horn, Texas that New Shepard, the company’s groundbreaking reusable rocket, is a seriously sky-worthy vehicle. Named as a nod to Alan Shepard, the first U.S. astronaut in space, the rocket successfully completed its launch, flight, and landing sequences, and is now “the rarest of beasts—a used rocket,” said Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos (also founder of Amazon), on the company’s website.
Bezos praised New Shepard’s “flawless mission,” which saw the space vehicle achieve Mach 3.72 (about 2829 mph) while taking its crew capsule to a final height of 62.4 miles above the Earth before safely deploying the parachute-equipped capsule and “returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the center of the pad”—all in just 11 minutes of flight time.
Image credit: Blue Origin
One of several companies that received NASA dollars to further next-gen spacecraft development in the ongoing privatized space race, Blue Origin has undergone trial and error with its efforts in the past few years; in 2011, another of Bezos' experimental rockets exploded during a Texas test run. (Competitor SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, had a similar setback in late June when its Falcon 9 rocket blew up shortly after liftoff). After the 2011 failure, designers went back to their likely very high-tech drawing boards, and perhaps that bump in the road paved the way for New Shepard’s success.
Intended to facilitate tours for paying astronauts as well as missions into deeper space, the vehicle represents a major score for both the company and the future of private- and agency-based space travel. Bezos added, “Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again.”