The science of space travel is incredibly complex and difficult to master – but the private firm Blue Origin, run by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is making it look easy at the moment. The company has successfully launched and landed its reusable New Shepard rocket for the third time in a row.
“Flawless BE-3 restart and perfect booster landing. CC chutes deployed,” tweeted Bezos after the event (BE-3 is the liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen rocket engine inside New Shepard). The spacecraft climbed to a height (apogee) of 339,138 feet or 103,369 metres before heading back to Earth.
The New Shepard rocket is capable of carrying six passengers into space, although the tests so far have been unmanned ones – Blue Origin wants to start testing flights with crew members in 2017 before allowing paying passengers on board in 2018.
Reusable rockets are crucial to the next phase of space exploration: commercial firms, including Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, want to keep costs manageable for their space tourism missions by using the same spacecraft again and again.
We’ve seen SpaceX successfully land its Falcon 9 rocket back on terra firma though as yet it’s been unable to perform the same trick out in the ocean – logistically it’s easier to land a reusable rocket somewhere out at sea, which is why the engineers at Musk’s firm are so eager to achieve this particular breakthrough.
So is Blue Origin winning the race? Well, it’s more or less honours even right now: while New Shepard has had more success in launching and landing, Falcon 9 is larger, more powerful and capable of taking passengers into orbit, rather than just touching the edge of space as the Blue Origin rocket does.
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