Blue Origin completes vertical rocket landing

Blue Origin successfully flew its New Shepherd space vehicle to over 100km this week, landing the rocket vertically back at its West Texas launch site.

The private space company, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is working towards commercial space flight. Having a reusable rocket is key to making that economically viable, and Bezos sees this mission as an important step towards Blue Origin’s first manned flight.

Blue Origin

“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket,” he said. “Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission—soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the centre of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again.”

Named after US astronaut Alan Shephard, the vehicle consists of a crew capsule that sits on top of a 60-foot rocket, powered by a single American-made BE-3 liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen engine. The BE-3 provides 110,000 pounds of thrust at liftoff, with passengers experiencing forces upwards of 3 Gs for 150 seconds on ascent.

After passing the Kármán Line, which marks the boundary of space, the crew will be able to release their harnesses, experiencing weightlessness and taking in the view from large windows that make up one third of the capsule. The crew then straps back in before hitting 5 Gs during descent, with parachutes and thrusters helping to reduce speed and provide a soft landing. Meanwhile, the rocket is guided back to earth to land vertically. Bezos explained how the intricate manoeuvre was performed.

Blue Origin

“Our unique ring fin shifted the centre of pressure aft to help control re-entry and descent,” he said. “Eight large drag brakes deployed and reduced the vehicle’s terminal speed to 387mph; hydraulically actuated fins steered the vehicle through 119mph high-altitude crosswinds to a location precisely aligned with and 5,000 feet above the landing pad; then the highly-throttleable BE-3 engine re-ignited to slow the booster as the landing gear deployed and the vehicle descended the last 100 feet at 4.4mph to touchdown on the pad.”