SpaceX has been trying—and failing—to neatly land its rockets on a barge for months now. But Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin space company seems to have made a beautifully controlled landing on solid ground with its own New Shepard craft.
In the video, Blue Origin—Bezos’s private space firm—shows its most recent launch of its New Shepard space vehicle. During the test mission, its BE-3 rocket and crew capsule were launched to a height of 62 miles. Then, the capsule made a controlled landing, falling to the ground under a parachute.
But the BE-3 rocket also began its own controlled descent, when its own rockets fired at 5,000 feet. It then managed to go on to make a neat, vertical landing, touching the ground at a sedate 4.4mph.
Bezos has explained that the rocket “flew a flawless mission — soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 199-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four-and-a-half feet from the center of the pad.” He added that “now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas, [the BE-3] is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket.” Nice.
Blue Origin plans to send people to the edge of space later this decade using its New Shepard suborbital launch system. New Shepard, which consists of a booster rocket and a three person crew capsule, is designed to ferry people into low Earth orbit for several minutes and then gently fall back to Earth will the aid of parachutes. Meanwhile, as demonstrated, the rocket returns to Earth to make a controlled landing.
It’s all in some contrast to SpaceX’s recent attempts to land its rockets on a barge, which have all ended in disaster so far. But, as Elon Musk himself as all too keen to point out, there are some differences between what SpaceX is doing and what Blue Origin has achieved.