In one of the more important pieces of space news you’ll hear this month, Blue Origin launched a suborbital rocket to space yesterday, which came back again. In case that’s not clear, this is kind of a big deal. It’s one small step toward a reusable launch vehicle, one giant leap for space tourism.
According to Blue Origin, “Blue Origin today announced that its New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers) before executing a historic landing back at the launch site in West Texas."
One hundred kilometers is an important target to space companies: Known as the Kármán line, it's considered the boundary between Earth and Space. The New Shepard will fly up to six passengers at a time, all of whom will want their Astronaut Badge.
This is heady stuff, and not just because of the success of the capsule. Its autonomously controlled BE-3 liquid-fueled rocket also landed—making the vehicle truly reusable. (Even though this is technically the second time the New Shepard capsule has been to space and back after a test launch in April, that test was not considered a test because the propulsion module was lost.)
Reusability, rather than building a new spacecraft from scratch, is the essential feature to reduce costs and make spaceflight affordable. Existing space vehicles are launched for the first time, every time ... which means getting it right first time, every time. (Even the Space Shuttle was only partly reusable.)
But this isn’t just good for potential star trekkers. Reducing the cost of spaceflight is good for the planet. Amir Blachman, the managing director of the Space Angels Network, a space-based angel investment firm, told Blastr why Blue Origin’s flight will eventually become a game changer:
"The cost reduction brings space into the reach of millions of academic researchers, scientists and smaller companies. Reusablity accelerates the development of technologies needed for long term human space mission. Most importantly, reusability enables the rapid development of the orbiting space economy, which includes satellites, communications, space-borne super computers, on-orbit pharmaceutical development, and myriad other technologies and services that improve life on earth,” said Blachman.
Back in 2004, Scaled Composites won the Ansari X-Prize (and its $10 million purse) by proving it could fly to the edge of space and back twice within two weeks. Blue Origin hasn’t published their timeline for New Shepard's next launch, but the sooner it does, the sooner it can serve us up the rocket-fueled future we've been waiting for since the Space Age.
Check out Blue Origin's video, below. And let us know in the comments how much you'll pay for a flight to space.