In the battle to create a reusable rocket, Jeff Bezos has just dealt Elon Musk’s SpaceX a significant and unexpected blow.
Blue Origin, the Amazon founder’s secretive private space firm, has successfully flown its New Shepard ship to space, before landing it at a launch site in Texas.
Elon Musk has so far tried, and failed, to land his Falcon rocket on a specially-built barge, with his craft tipping over or crashing on impact.
The New Shepard rocket blasted off from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site at 12:21pm CST (18.21 GMT), reached a suborbital altitude of 62 miles (100 km) and landed back at the launch site eight minutes later.
In suborbital spaceflight, rockets are not traveling fast enough to reach the speed required to counter the pull of Earth’s gravity.
This means they re-enter the atmosphere like a ballistic missile, but he only visible damage to the rocket is scorched metal at its base.
During the flight, the vehicle – which is designed to carry six passengers about 62 miles (100km) above Earth – breached the boundary between the atmosphere and space.
Being able to refly a rocket will slash launch costs, a game-changer for the space industry, Bezos said.
‘When you lower the cost of access to space very significantly you will change the markets, you will change what’s possible,’ he said.
The plan is to reuse booster rockets rather than discard them as is the custom around the world, to reduce launch costs.
First-stage boosters normally just slam into the Atlantic and sink.
‘When you throw a rocket away, an expendable rocket, you use it once and you throw away all that expensive space hardware,’ Bezos told ABC News’ ‘Good Morning America’ today.
‘It’d be like getting in your [Boeing] 747 and flying across the country and then throwing it away, just using it one time. Imagine how expensive traveling would be.’
Bezos said: ‘Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission – soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119 mph [192km/h] high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the centre of the pad.
The important flight was captured on video.
Three billionaires – Musk, Bezos and Richard Branson – have entered the space arena in recent years and the race is on to create reusable rockets that could be used for space tourism as well as future scientific missions.
In response to today’s success, rival Elon Musk tweeted: ‘Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster’.
While people are directly comparing SpaceX and Blue Origins’ achievements when it comes to landing reusable rockets so far, Musk is keen to remind people that his rockets need to be far more powerful to stay in orbit, rather than entering the edge of space and the Earth’s atmosphere.
The Tesla entrepreneur later added on Twitter: ‘It is, however, important to clear up the difference between ‘space’ and ‘orbit’,’ before adding: ‘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.’
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