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Blue Origin reusable rocket launches - and lands

Hecko FloresNovember 24, 2015

The space company based in Kent, Washington released footage of the launch and landing at its West Texas facility. The company had been known in the industry for its secrecy until recent times.

Raumfahrtunternehmen Blue Origin testet wiederverwendbare Rakete
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Blue Origin

Jules Verne, Wernher von Braun and now Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos, joins the list of the most influential figures of space exploration after his space transportation company, Blue Origin, successfully landed a suborbital rocket back at its launch site. This being a key step in its drive to make reusable rockets, the company said on Tuesday.

The New Shepard rocket, which is designed to carry six passengers, blasted off from a launch site in West Texas at 12:21 p.m. (1821 UTC) on Monday. The rocket reached an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles) - breaching the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and space - and landed back at the launch site eight minutes later, the company said.

"That's a game-changer because it changes the cost structure of space travel completely," Bezos told CBS on Tuesday. "Our long term vision is millions of people living and working in space and continuing to explore the solar system and reusability is a total game-changer for that."

Bezos had compared space travel's high costs to those of using a "disposable Boeing 747 airplane" for only one flight. He said that the company would continue "a very methodical test program" as it prepares its space travel program.

Space race

The successful launch and landing puts Blue Origin ahead of rival SpaceX - founded by another entrepreneur focused on new tech, Elon Musk of Tesla and other enterprises - which has so far failed to accomplish a similar feat.

Musk congratulated Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos on their vertical takeoff and landing via Twitter.

But he added that "it is, however, important to clear up the difference between 'space' and 'orbit'" and noted that any mission would need to achieve greater velocity for a true space mission. Musk later tweeted that the credit for the first reusable rocket belongs to the X-15, a hypersonic rocket-powered aircraft used by the U.S. Air Force and NASA in the early 1960s.

Nevertheless, it is the conditions in those last few seconds before touchdown, when both orbital and suborbital rockets are positioning themselves for landing, that so far has eluded SpaceX, and which the Blue Origin team successfully achieved.

"I'm just ecstatic they were able to hit it," said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

Raumfahrtunternehmen Blue Origin testet wiederverwendbare Rakete
Bezos celebrating along his Blue Origin team with the New Shepard rocket in the background.Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Blue Origin

Blue Origin is among a handful of companies developing vehicles to carry cargo and paying passengers into space. The necessity arose, in large part, with NASA abandoning its space shuttle program. Blue Origin is also developing a rocket engine in partnership with United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, to replace Russian-made RD-180 engines used on ULA's Atlas 5 boosters.

Congress last year banned the use of the RD-180 engines for military missions to punish Russia for its annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.