Blue Origin just successfully reused a rocket in space for the first time ever

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Jan 25, 2016

Though SpaceX is (deservedly) hogging most of the headlines, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is also working on its own reusable space tech — and just managed to relaunch a used rocket for the first time ever.

Blue Origin successfully landed one of its New Shepard space vehicle and boosters back in November (technically beating SpaceX to the punch), and now the company has managed to reuse the same rocket for another successful flight (something SpaceX wants to prove is possible but has no plan to actually do). It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: This is a huge step toward reusable space tech, which is the hurdle that could eventually cut the cost of space travel tremendously.

For the New Shepard (re)launch, the craft reached an apogee of 333,582 feet (101.7 kilometers) before both the capsule and booster successfully returned to Earth (with another vertical landing) for recovery and reuse. According to Bezos, the data from the November mission matched preflight predictions closely, which made preparations for the re-flight relatively straightforward. An engineering team replaced the crew capsule parachutes and pyro igniters, then conducted functional and avionics checkouts and made some software upgrades.

Along the way, Bezos said they’ve also made some improvements to their landing strategy:

“Rather than the vehicle translating to land at the exact center of the pad, it now initially targets the center, but then sets down at a position of convenience on the pad, prioritizing vehicle attitude ahead of precise lateral positioning. 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. Our Monte Carlo sims of New Shepard landings show this new strategy increases margins, improving the vehicle’s ability to reject disturbances created by low-altitude winds.”

Though this is definitely huge, it’s worth noting that Blue Origin is still splashing around in the kiddie pool, while SpaceX is swimming in the deep end. SpaceX’s landing attempts followed legit missions into orbit, while the Blue Origin tests simply reached the minimum height to be considered “in space,” then headed home. One of those things is, obviously, a bit more complicated than the other.

But, that being said, this is awesome news for Blue Origin and the private space community at large. Welcome to the future.


(Via Blue Origin)