Blue Origin proves rocket recovery technology

Blue Origin video shows launch and recovery of the New Shepard space vehicle, which will eventually take astronauts to the boundary of space.

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Blue Origin (Kent, WA, US) on Nov. 24 announced that its New Shepard space vehicle successfully flew to space, reaching its planned test altitude of 329,839 ft/100.5 km before executing a historic landing back at the launch site in West Texas. 

Named in honor of the first American in space, Alan Shepard, the New Shepard vertical takeoff and vertical landing vehicle will carry six astronauts to altitudes beyond 100 km, the internationally recognized boundary of space. Blue Origin astronauts will experience the thrill of launch atop a rocket, the freedom of weightlessness, and views through the largest windows to ever fly in space. An animation of the Blue Origin astronaut experience can be found at Astronaut flights will begin following completion of a methodical flight test program.

The New Shepard space vehicle is fully reusable and operated from Blue Origin’s West Texas launch site. The vehicle is comprised of two elements—a crew capsule in which the astronauts ride and a rocket booster powered by a single American-made BE-3 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine. At liftoff, the BE-3 delivers 110,000 lb of thrust. During ascent, astronauts experience three times the force of gravity as the spacecraft accelerates through the atmosphere.

Blue Origin video of New Shepard launch and rocket recovery.

Following powered flight, the crew capsule separates from the booster and coasts into space, providing several minutes of weightlessness. As the crew capsule descends, it reenters the atmosphere with astronauts experiencing about five times the force of gravity before deploying three main parachutes for landing. Meanwhile, the booster descends under guided flight to the landing pad. Just prior to landing, the booster re-ignites its BE-3 engine which slows the vehicle to 4.4 mph for a gentle, powered vertical landing, enabling vehicle reuse.

“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. “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.”

Flight Details

  • Launched at 11:21 a.m. Central Time, Nov. 23, 2015
  • Apogee of 329,839 ft/100.5 km for the crew capsule
  • Mach 3.72
  • Re-ignition of rocket booster at 4,896 ft/1,492m above ground level
  • Controlled vertical landing of the booster at 4.4 mph/7 kmh
  • Deployment of crew capsule drogue parachutes at 20,045 ft/6,110m above ground level
  • Landing of the crew capsule under parachutes at 11:32 a.m. Central Time