Earlier today, Blue Origin launched their same New Shepard rocket booster that they launched into space two months ago. Looks like the commercial space race for reusable rockets is on — SpaceX is flashier with bigger trajectories, but Blue Origin keeps beating them to firsts.
The original New Shepard flight boosted the rocket above the Karman line, the official definition of the hazy boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and space, and landed it vertically back at their test field in Texas. At the time, SpaceX’s Elon Musk gave Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos grief that it wasn’t a true spaceflight, and emphasising that what they were doing with the Falcon 9 was in a totally different class. SpaceX pulled off their own first post-mission vertical landing a month later, delivering their Falcon 9 rocket to Cape Canaveral in Flordia.
We’ve covered SpaceX running their recovered Falcon 9 through its post-flight checkup, but haven’t heard a peep from Blue Origin until today. Apparently New Shepard performed almost exactly to modelled predictions, making the checkup and refurbishment straightforward. Engineers replaced crew capsule parachutes and pyro igniters, ran checkups, and upgraded the software.
In its second flight, New Shepard reached an apogee of 101,676m. It’s landing this time was a little different. Part of the software upgrade was reprioritising how the rocket targets touchdown. It no longer aims for the center of the pad at all costs, but instead targets the center but touches down anywhere convenient so it doesn’t make last-minute swerves compensating for low-altitude gusts.
Unlike Musk’s plan to put his landed Falcon 9 in a museum (or at least never fly it again), Bezos is already planning on launching and landing this same rocket again and again and again all year long.