Once? Impressive. Twice? Pretty good. Three times? Now you’re talking.
On Saturday, April 2, Blue Origin successfully launched its reusable New Shepard vehicle on a brief jaunt to space for the third time from its launch site in West Texas, continuing to showcase the viability of its reusable rocket technology.
This launch saw the rocket fly straight up to a height of 103.8 kilometers (64.5 miles), experiencing a couple of minutes of microgravity before returning to Earth. It is the same rocket as used on the previous two flights, this being the highest launch so far.
The unmanned rocket’s capsule separated to land under parachutes, while the rocket performed a powered landing, almost identical to the company’s previous two flights. A key difference this time around though was the timing of the engine restart.
Here you can see the rocket's impressively quick return to Earth. Blue Origin
The propulsive landing started just 1,100 meters (3,600 feet) above the ground, with CEO Jeff Bezos tweeting there would have been an “impact in 6 sec if engine doesn’t restart & ramp fast.” Of course, this was entirely planned, and was merely intended to show the increased capability of the impressive BE-3 booster.
Blue Origin is known for its secrecy, but its recent string of rocket successes seems to have seen the company become much more open. Just last month, Bezos gave journalists a tour of the company’s facilities, a privilege not afforded before. And prior to this latest launch attempt, he tweeted numerous details about the upcoming flight. Other flights have all been conducted under wraps.
While the previous two launches were accompanied with stylish videos, Blue Origin really stepped it up a notch this time around. Drone cameras were used to capture stunning footage of the rocket returning to the ground, while on-board cameras captured the rocket’s-eye view. Check out the video below.
This latest flight was also more than just a test of the technology. It carried with it two experiments from universities, one to measure the effects of microgravity on small rocks and the other to see how collisions occur in microgravity. Blue Origin has made no secret of its desire to privatize space travel, and flying experiments (and ultimately people) is a step in that direction.
Blue Origin is often said to be a direct rival to SpaceX, but while the two companies have similar end goals, they are at different stages at the moment. However, Blue Origin has its sights on eventually launching orbital rockets like Elon Musk’s company, and they are even planning to begin manned flights next year – the same year SpaceX hopes to do so.
What’s clear is that the commercialization of space is well and truly steaming ahead. This latest launch reaffirms Blue Origin’s commitment to private spaceflight, and while the company is not yet ready to reveal the exact details of its upcoming plans, you can be sure you’ll be hearing plenty more about their progress in the coming years.