Jeff Bezos' private space company, Blue Origin, announced Tuesday morning that it had made history. It had successfully flown its first-stage rocket, New Shepard, to an altitude of 100 km (62 miles) and brought it back in one piece. This is a huge accomplishment for the approaching era of reusable rockets, which is expected to dramatically reduce the cost of spaceflight. With a fleet of reusable rockets, companies will no longer need a new multimillion-dollar rocket for every flight.
The New Shepard rocket was also carrying a spacecraft that is designed to eventually shuttle six customers into suborbital space. Suborbital space is right at the boundary where the gravitational pull from Earth ends and space begins - about 100 km above Earth's surface.
It's called suborbital because the spacecraft is not high enough or moving fast enough to actually orbit Earth, but people can still experience a brief period of weightlessness, just like the astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
The launch ended with the spacecraft safely parachuting down to the ground at Blue Origin's test site near the town of Van Horn, Texas. After that, it was time for the crew to watch as the rocket came plummeting back to Earth. The team designed the rocket to fire its engines during its landing to slow its descent and avoid a crash.
"Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts - a used rocket," Bezos said in a Blue Origin statement. "Blue Origin's reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission - soaring to 329,839 feet [100 km] and then returning through 119-mph [191-km/h] high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the centre of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can't wait to fuel up and fly again."
Blue Origin's competitor SpaceX has also built reusable rockets, but it has been unsuccessful in its two attempts to land them. There are a few differences between SpaceX's reusable rockets and Blue Origin's, which head of communications Jessica Pieczonka, explained to Business Insider:
"SpaceX is only trying to recover their first stage booster, which is of course suborbital. The SpaceX first stage does an in-space deceleration burn to make their re-entry more benign. If anything, the Blue Origin booster may be the one that flies through the harsher re-entry environment. Finally, the hardest part is probably the final landing segment which is the same for both boosters."
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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