What was once fanciful is now routine.
This afternoon, Jeff Bezos’s space company, Blue Origin, successfully landed its New Shepard rocket after a trip into suborbital space. This is the third such landing for the company.
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Recovering rockets is crucial to lowering the cost of space flight, a dream shared by Bezos and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. The tech and aerospace worlds were shocked last November 23rd when Blue Orgin came out of seemingly nowhere to announce its first successful landing. SpaceX then pulled off a similar feat on December 21st.
But as the Verge has crucially pointed out, Blue Origin’s New Shepard and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 are very different beasts. New Shepard is a sub-orbital rocket, while Falcon 9 is designed to deliver payloads such as satellites into orbit. To do that, Falcon 9 travels faster, and has to be taller and thinner than New Shepard, making it much harder to land its booster stage in one piece.
In fact, SpaceX delivered a payload of 11 satellites on the December mission when it first successfully landed the Falcon 9. By contrast, according to CNN, this third landing by Blue Origin came after a mission carrying a box of rocks, and a box of dust with a marble in it.
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The difference between the two company’s ambitions is also notable. The promotional video Blue Origin released after its first successful landing put space tourism front and center, highlighting the views and weightlessness that passengers on its rocket would eventually be able to experience. SpaceX and Musk, by contrast, have said a reusable Falcon 9 serves one overriding goal—the colonization of Mars.