Reusable Rockets Are Here. Thanks, Blue Origin

In November 2015, a Blue Origin rocket called New Shepard took off from Earth and flew into space reaching an altitude of 329,839 feet (100.5 kilometers). It also delivered an empty crew compartment into suborbital space, returned to Earth and landed upright on the launch pad.

It was a successful demonstration of a system that could lead to reusable rockets. And it could change space travel forever.

Getting to space is expensive, in large part because the vehicles we rely on to boost us into space are single-use rockets. Every mission uses up another rocket. Organizations like Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are trying to change that.

Blue Origin’s demonstration is impressive: The returning rocket stays upright and fires thrusters to slow its rapid descent until it lands on the pad safely.

Eyes immediately turned to SpaceX, which has been attempting (and failing) to perform a similar feat. But Musk quickly pointed out on Twitter that there are some significant differences between Blue Origin’s New Shepard and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket:
Elon Musk

@elonmusk
Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster

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3:24 PM — Nov 24, 2015
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Elon Musk

@elonmusk
Replying to @elonmusk
Getting to space needs ~Mach 3, but GTO orbit requires ~Mach 30. The energy needed is the square, i.e. 9 units for space and 900 for orbit.

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3:30 PM — Nov 24, 2015
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Musk makes a good point: The challenges of getting into orbit and returning to Earth safely are tougher than getting into suborbital altitudes. But Bezos’ team has made amazing progress. And it could mean your next family vacation will include four minutes of weightlessness!

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