Aspiring space tourists, pack your bags. Blue Origin, the space-tourism company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, on Saturday launched and vertically landed its New Shepard rocket near Van Horn, Texas.
"Flawless BE-3 restart and perfect booster landing," Mr. Bezos tweeted Saturday morning, referring to the rocket's BE-3 engine.
This was the third successful landing since November 2015 of Bezos’s unmanned New Shepard rocket, named after astronaut Alan Shepard, who was the first American to reach space in 1961. The successful landing marks a major accomplishment for the company and for the commercial spaceflight industry, which includes companies such as SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, all trying to build reusable rockets to make spaceflight affordable. The multi-million-dollar rockets are currently used to deliver satellites into orbit above Earth, or cargo to the International Space Station.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX also landed the first stage, or the bottom section of its Falcon 9 rocket, in December 2015 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. This was after a couple of failed attempts to land the rocket on a barge in the Atlantic.
While Blue Origin has been quietly building its launch and land capabilities as it prepares to begin flying passengers to space in 2018, reports Reuters, SpaceX has been publicly testing rocket landings while delivering billions of dollars and many tons worth of commercial satellites and NASA cargo to space. Its rockets travel further and at much higher speeds than the New Shepard has so far.
Until Saturday’s launch, which Bezos for the first time announced in advance, Blue Origin has been secretive about its activities, guided by a company motto that describes its slow and meticulous process: "Gradatim Ferociter," which means “step by step, ferociously.”
"One of the things I feel very, very strongly about is if you want to get good at spaceflight you have to practice," Bezos told ArsTechnica in March, during the first media tour of the company’s decade-old, rocket-building facility in Kent, Wash. "We need to get to the point where we are flying more than 100 times a year. We want a vehicle we can fly over and over again with only the lightest of refurbishments," he said.
Saturday’s landing brought Bezos one step closer to his goal. It was New Shepard’s third flight, with its last launch and return successfully executed in January.
New Shepard launched Saturday with a capsule on top of it, which one day is expected to transport six tourists into space.
“As the sky fades to black and you coast into space, a perfect silence will surround you. Your capsule will separate from the booster, and you’ll receive clearance to release your harness,” Blue Origin tells potential future space travelers on its website.
“You’ll marvel in weightless freedom and lose yourself in breathtaking views through the largest windows in spaceflight history. Having crossed over the Kármán Line into space, you will have earned your astronaut wings,” the description continues.
The New Shepard landed a few minutes after launch. While in space, it released the capsule, which parachuted back to Earth and was recovered.