On its second try, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space launch company successfully returned a New Shepard rocket and capsule after blastoff, a key step in ongoing efforts to develop a reusable space transportation system.
"Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts-a used rocket," said Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Blue Origin's reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission-soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the center of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can't wait to fuel up and fly again," Bezos said.
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The rocket blasted off at 12:21 p.m. EST Monday, deployed its capsule and landed eight minutes later. The capsule made a parachute touchdown at 12:32 p.m.
New Shepard is designed to carry six passengers to suborbital altitudes, similar to Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. Blue Origin has not yet started selling tickets for the rides.
Virgin Galactic launches its spaceship from a specially made jet aircraft, which then lands on a runway. Blue Origin, as well as SpaceX, have been developing technology to launch capsules on top of rockets, then have the rockets land themselves so they can be refurbished and reflown, slashing launch costs.
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"Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the Blue Origin team for achieving VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) on their boosters," SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk posted on Twitter.
SpaceX has made several attempts to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on a platform in the ocean, but so far has not been successful.