Blue Origin announced on Tuesday that its New Shepard spacecraft flew successfully into space from its test launch facility in Van Horn, Texas. The vehicle consisted of two elements, a launcher powered by a single BE-3 rocket engine and a crew capsule. New Shepard, named after the first American in space Alan Shepard, launched at 11:21 a.m. CST on Monday. It flew to an altitude of 329,839 feet or 100.5 kilometers. The crew capsule separated and spent several minutes in space before descending. The crew capsule deployed parachutes and landed about 11 minutes after launch. The launch vehicle fired its engine and achieved a vertical soft landing.
Blue Origin has achieved the launch, flight into space, and the landing of a rocket that it says can and will be reused. Company founder Jeff Bezos, who also owns Amazon.com, detailed the flight.
“This flight validates our vehicle architecture and design. Our unique ring fin shifted the center of pressure aft to help control reentry and descent; eight large drag brakes deployed and reduced the vehicle’s terminal speed to 387 mph; hydraulically actuated fins steered the vehicle through 119-mph 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 4.4 mph to touchdown on the pad.”
Blue Origin’s initial goal is to develop a space tourism business similar to the one being formed by Virgin Galactic. Whereas the latter company intends to launch the rocket-powered spacecraft called SpaceShipTwo from a carrier aircraft, Blue Origin’s spaceship will fly in the more traditional style, from a vertically launched rocket. Both the rocket and the space capsule
Blue Origin is developing a new rocket manufacturing and launch facility at NASA’s old Launch Complex 36 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch complex was used until ten years ago by NASA and the United States Air Force to fly Atlas rockets. Besides the suborbital tourist operation, Blue Origin is developing a new rocket engine, the BE-4, in partnership with United Launch Alliance. The BA-4 will power a new generation of launch vehicles by both Blue Origin and ULA.
Blue Origin eventually hopes to fly into low Earth orbit with a totally reusable launch vehicle and spacecraft, a goal that is also being pursued by its main rival, Elon Musk’s SpaceX.