WASHINGTON — In another breakthrough for the space launch industry, the same Blue Origin rocket booster that successfully completed a launch-and-landing last November repeated the feat on Friday.
With this latest touchdown, the space company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos proved its rocket booster can be reused, rather than discarded per the usual space launch process. That same New Shepard booster became the first vehicle to fly into space and return to Earth just two months ago.
Although Blue Origin is the first to launch and land a rocket for the second time, it is not the only company breaking ground in the space launch industry. Elon Musk's SpaceX successfully landed a reusable rocket after an operational mission to space in December. If Blue Origin, SpaceX and others can reliably relaunch and land rocket boosters then the cost of space flight could decrease dramatically, potentially revolutionizing the market, analysts contend.
During Friday's flight, the New Shepard booster took off, separated from the capsule it carried, and executed a controlled vertical landing, according to a video posted on Blue Origin’s website dubbed “Launch. Land. Repeat.” As it did during the November event, the booster once again flew above the “Karman line,” the official designation of where space begins – some 62 miles or 100 kilometers above sea level.
“The first rocket to fly above the Karman line and then land vertically upon the Earth is now the first to have done it twice,” according to lines scrolling across the video screen. “Our vision. Millions of people living and working in space. You can’t get there by throwing the hardware away.”
Blue Origin will attempt to land the same New Shepard rocket "again and again" later this year, according to a Jan. 22 statement on the company's website.
SpaceX's December launch-and-recovery is similar to Blue Origin’s first landing, but analysts contend SpaceX’s was more impressive because the Falcon 9 rocket reached a higher altitude and executed a mission – boosting 11 Orbcomm communications satellites into orbit – while Blue Origin’s first event was a test.
SpaceX likely will not try to launch the same Falcon 9 rocket again, Musk told reporters Dec. 21. Instead, the company will do a static fire on the launch pad to confirm that “all systems are good and that we're able to do a full-thrust hold-down firing of the rocket.” SpaceX will likely end up re-flying a subsequent booster, he said.
Using a different Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX successfully launched an ocean-observing satellite earlier this month, but failed an attempted landing.
Musk's upgraded Falcon 9 launch system was certified for national security space launches Jan. 25, according to a statement from Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.