There’s something of a reusable rocket space race happening right now, as both Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX battle it out to develop reusable rocket technology as quickly as possible. The latest breakthrough has come from Bezos’ company, which managed to launch and then safely land its New Shepard rocket for the second time.
The same rocket that went up to space and touched back down in November has done it again, reaching an altitude of 101.7 kilometres (or 333,582 feet) before coming back down – the Karman line, the generally agreed upon point at which space starts, is 100 km above the Earth.
Getting rockets and boosters that can be reused is crucial in bringing down the costs of space travel and getting more than a handful of people into orbit, hence the high level of interest in the activities of Blue Origin, SpaceX and others. The fact that New Shepard has repeated the feat shows that significant progress is being made.
Shooting for the stars
"Data from the November mission matched our preflight predictions closely, which made preparations for today’s re-flight relatively straightforward," explained Bezos in a blog post. Parachutes and igniters were replaced, the software was upgraded, but this was essentially the same BE-3 liquid hydrogen rocket as last time.
SpaceX is also working hard to make its rockets reusable: one of its Falcon 9 rockets recently nailed a landing on the ground though the company has yet to repeat the trick on a floating barge (being able to land at sea is preferable for a variety of logistical and financial reasons).
It’s about honours even right now: SpaceX’s rockets are actually going up higher into orbit before coming back down, not just touching the line where space technically starts, as the Blue Origin rockets do. While it might seem that Jeff Bezos’ rockets are leading the way, they’re smaller and easier to manage than the ones being tested by Elon Musk and SpaceX.