Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has trumpeted a second test launch and landing of its suborbital New Shepard spacecraft.
Its first such accomplishment came in November, when like the latest test, in a remote area of Texas, the successful results were announced only after the fact. The New Shepard reached 333,582 feet — about 63 miles high — before its capsule and booster returned to Earth in a gentle landing staged Jan. 22.
“Data from the November mission matched our preflight predictions closely, which made preparations for todays’ re-flight relatively straightforward,” said Bezos, best known as the founder of online retailer Amazon. “The team replaced the crew capsule parachutes, replaced the pyro igniters, conducted functional and avionics checkouts, and made several software improvements including a noteworthy one.
“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,” he said. “It’s like a pilot lining up a plane with the center line 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 midpoint. You just land a few feet left or right of the center line.”
Blue Origin’s tests bookend a pair of successful launches and landing attempts — one successful, one not — of a reusable, orbital rocket by Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Musk, best known as the head of electric-car company Tesla, has stressed that the challenges are greater in landing orbit-capable rockets — which are much larger than suborbital launch vehicles such as New Shepard.
Both companies are committed to developing reusable rockets as a means of bringing down the cost of space missions.
Hawthorne,Calif.-based SpaceX’s primary business currently involves work for NASA. Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin also seeks work from the space agency, while also gearing up for space-tourism flights in which wealthy individuals would pay to take brief sub-orbital journeys.