Blue Origin makes history by reusing the same rocket that was launched and landed in November
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Blue Origin, the private spaceflight company on Friday night announced that the same New Shepard booster which blasted off and landed in November had repeated the feat before “gently” returning to Earth.
“The very same New Shepard booster that flew above the Karman line and then landed vertically at its launch site last November has now flown and landed again, demonstrating reuse,” Bezos wrote in his blogpost. The Karman Line is the widely recognized border between Earth and space, about 62 miles (100 kilometers) above the surface.
Now Blue Origin is the first to relaunch a used sub-orbital rocket.
According to the release, the New Shepard rocket flew to the edge of space at 333,582 feet (63.2 miles or 101.7 km) before returning both crew capsule and booster for a controlled ground landing in Texas.
A video released by Blue Origin showed the launch and landing from the Texas site, with the rocket slowed to three miles per hour (five kilometers per hour) on its descent with the assistance of parachutes.
Video of the launch was titled “Launch. Land. Repeat.” A simple concept, but a truly revolutionary strategy for the rocket industry that is just now taking shape with companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX leading the way.
In November, Blue Origin performed a similar suborbital launch and landing with the New Shepard rocket to an altitude of 100.5 kilometers. In December, SpaceX became the first company to launch Falcon 9 rocket and land it uring an orbital mission.
Bezos, who founded online giant Amazon and also owns The Washington Post newspaper, said in a statement Saturday that Blue Origin has solved the problem of balancing to keep the rocket in an upright position as it lands.
“I’m a huge fan of rocket-powered vertical landing,” he said in the statement.
“Why because to achieve our vision of millions of people living and working in space we will need to build very large rocket boosters. And the vertical landing architecture scales extraordinarily well.
“When you do a vertical landing, you’re solving the classic inverted pendulum problem, and the inverted pendulum problem gets a bit easier as the pendulum gets a bit bigger.”
One very important software update was made to allow for a smoother landing, by targeting the center of the pad and setting down where it needs to instead of making unnecessary correction so close to landing.
From the announcement:
“It’s like a pilot lining up a plane with the centerline of the runway. If the plane is a few feet off center as you get close, you don’t swerve at the last minute to ensure hitting the exact mid-point. You just land a few feet left or right of the centerline.”
The crew capsule parachutes as well as the pyro igniters were replaced in preparation for Friday’s launch. Blue Origin conducted functional and avionics checkouts, and made several software improvements, according to the news release.
The video also shows the crew capsule separation and touch down in West Texas. The capsule parachute deploys slowing it down from 15 mph to 3 mph before landing.
Bezos noted that their New Shephard vehicle is the smallest booster that they will build. Larger, orbital vehicles are next on the Blue Origin to-do list.
“We’re already more than three years into development of our first orbital vehicle. Though it will be the small vehicle in our orbital family, it’s still many times larger than New Shepard. I hope to share details about this first orbital vehicle this year, ’’ he said.
New Shepard will be launched and landed again and again this year, said Bezos.