Private spaceflight company Blue Origin has successfully launched and returned its New Shepard space vehicle in a test flight that could revolutionize spaceflight.
The New Shepard rocket is reusable, meaning spaceflight could become significantly more affordable.
The spacecraft reached an altitude of 329,839 feet, just passing through the internationally-recognized threshold of 62 miles for space in a test flight Monday.
“Rockets have always been expendable. Not anymore. Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts, a used rocket,” Blue Origin founder and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos wrote on the spaceflight company’s blog.
“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,” Mr. Bezos said in a news release.
New Shephard launched from the company's test site in Van Horn, Texas, on Monday morning, rocketing into space before releasing the crew capsule from the rocket booster. The capsule, which can hold six people but was unmanned Monday, slid into space once released from the booster before descending back toward Earth with the assistance of parachutes.
But it was the rocket booster’s landing that prompted celebration at Blue Origin.
After releasing the crew capsule, the booster began returning to Earth, deploying drag brakes as it reentered the atmosphere to slow down its descent. Closer to the ground, the booster used its rocket engine to slow down more.
According to Bezo’s blog post, the booster was moving at just 4.4 mph through the last 100 feet. It touched down precisely on the landing pad, thanks to fins steering the vehicle, Bezos wrote.
Blue Origin aims to carry humans into space via commercial spaceflight. “We are building Blue Origin to seed an enduring human presence in space, to help us move beyond this blue planet that is the origin of all we know,” Bezos wrote in the blog post. “Our fantastic team in Kent, Van Horn and Cape Canaveral is working hard not just to build space vehicles, but to bring closer the day when millions of people can live and work in space.”
Monday’s test flight represents a giant step toward that goal. “Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again,” Bezos said in the news release.