Blue Origin, the private space firm owned by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, has just dropped a huge, unexpected gauntlet in the race to develop a reusable rocket. It just launched its New Shepard space vehicle (video, below) consisting of a BE-3 rocket and crew capsule to a suborbital height of around 100.5 kilometers (62 miles). The capsule then separated and touched down beneath a parachute, but more importantly, the BE-3 rocket also started its own descent. After the rockets fired at nearly 5,000 feet, it made a a controlled vertical landing at a gentle 4.4 mph.
Elon Musk's SpaceX is attempting the same thing, but hasn't quite nailed the landing yet. Reusable rockets promise to be a major game-changer for the space industry in terms of cost-efficiency.
The effort by SpaceX is harder though as the company actually delivers a payload into orbit, whereas Blue Origin only performs a suborbital flight. The former requires significantly more thrust.
Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2015
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.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2015