VAN HORN, Texas — Blue Origin, a private commercial space company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, successfully launched and landed its New Shepard reusable rocket from west Texas on Monday, November 23, 2015.
Blue Origin announced that the 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.
“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket,” said Bezos. “Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission—soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the center of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again.”
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who’s company is also in the reusable rocket business, tweeted: “Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster.”
Named in honor of the first American in space, Alan Shepard, the New Shepard vertical takeoff and vertical landing vehicle will carry six astronauts to altitudes beyond 100 kilometers, the internationally-recognized boundary of space. The vehicle is comprised of two elements—a crew capsule in which the astronauts ride and a rocket booster powered by a single American-made BE-3 liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen engine. At liftoff, the BE-3 delivers 110,000 pounds of thrust.
Following powered flight, the crew capsule separates from the booster and coasts into space, providing several minutes of weightlessness. As the crew capsule descends, it reenters the atmosphere with astronauts experiencing about 5x the force of gravity before deploying three main parachutes for landing. Meanwhile, the booster descends under guided flight to the landing pad. Just prior to landing, the booster re-ignites its BE-3 engine which slows the vehicle to 4.4 mph for a gentle, powered vertical landing, enabling vehicle reuse.
“This flight validates our vehicle architecture and design,” Bezos said. “Our unique ring fin shifted the center of pressure aft to help control reentry and descent; eight large drag brakes deployed and reduced the vehicle’s terminal speed to 387 mph; hydraulically actuated fins steered the vehicle through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to a location precisely aligned with and 5,000 feet above the landing pad; then the highly-throttleable BE-3 engine re-ignited to slow the booster as the landing gear deployed and the vehicle descended the last 100 feet at 4.4 mph to touchdown on the pad.
Blue Origin was selected by United Launch Alliance to serve as the primary propulsion provider for its Next Generation Launch System capable of carrying humans to low-Earth orbit. Blue Origin announced in Sepetember that the company will begin launch operations at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 36 on Florida’s Space Coast later in the decade.
Image and Video Credit: Blue Origin