Blue Origin launched its New Shepard space launch system, which consists of a BE-3 rocket engine and a top-mounted crew capsule. New Shepard, which is named after famed Mercury and Apollo astronaut Alan Shepard, reached a suborbital height of 329,839 feet (62 miles) before the crew capsule detached and began is parachute-assisted descent to earth.
The BE-3 rocket, however, fell back to earth, descending through 119 mph crosswinds. At an altitude of 4,896 feet above ground level, the rocket booster (which can deliver 110,000 pounds of thrust) reignited to allow a controlled descent back to earth. Miraculously, the BE-3 was able to land just 4.5 feet from the center of the landing pad, touching down at a leisurely 4.4 mph.
“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket,” said Bezos. “Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again.”
To show that he’s a good sport that’s welcome of competition, Elon Musk took to Twitter to congratulate Bezos and the entire Blue Origins team:
Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2015
However, Musk’s congratulations had a big ‘ol asterisk placed beside it. He rightfully noted that Blue Origin’s launch was a much easier task to accomplish that what SpaceX has attempted in the past. While the New Shepard launch vehicle reached a maximum velocity of Mach 3.72, Musk fired off a series of tweets indicated that the Falcon 9 reaches a maximum velocity of Mach 10 and a height of 50 miles before its engines cut off. With a final apogee of about 90 miles above earth, the Falcon 9 has a lot further to fall than the BE-3 rocket, making for a much harder landing.
It is, however, important to clear up the difference between "space" and "orbit", as described well by https://t.co/7PD42m37fZ— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2015
Getting to space needs ~Mach 3, but GTO orbit requires ~Mach 30. The energy needed is the square, i.e. 9 units for space and 900 for orbit.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2015
Regardless of the technicalities involved, you can’t take away from what Blue Origins has accomplished. The future of space travel looks bright and we have companies like Blue Origins and SpaceX to thank for that optimism.