Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, flew the first developmental test flight of its New Shepard space vehicle Wednesday.
Blue Origin, the space company founded by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and headquartered in Kent, on Wednesday launched the first developmental flight of its New Shepard space vehicle from its West Texas test site.
A hydrogen-powered rocket successfully blasted an empty crew capsule to a planned test altitude of 58 miles before the capsule returned safely to Earth, its descent softened by multiple parachutes.
The test failed, however, to achieve one Blue Origin goal: landing and retrieving the rocket that propelled the vehicle.
After separating from the crew capsule, that part of the vehicle crashed to Earth rather than coming to a slow vertical landing as planned.
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“Unfortunately, we didn’t get to recover the propulsion module because we lost pressure in our hydraulic system on descent,” Bezos wrote in a Blue Origin blog post.
The release adds that “We’ve already been in work for some time on an improved hydraulic system,” and assembly of the next two propulsion modules is already under way.
“We’ll be ready to fly again soon,” Bezos wrote.
Developing a launch rocket that can be retrieved for re-use on subsequent flights is intended to greatly reduce the cost of traveling to space. Achieving this difficult goal has so far also eluded Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which has failed in its first three attempts to land a launch rocket safely on a sea-based platform.
Musk and Bezos are rivals in the new space race to create reliable private commercial space travel. While Musk’s SpaceX freely courts publicity, Blue Origin has been as secretive about its plans as is Bezos’ Amazon.
Wednesday’s flight was powered by Blue Origin’s new 110,000-pound-thrust BE-3 engine, designed and fabricated at its design, development and production facility in Kent.
The engine, which uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, worked flawlessly as the rocket accelerated to a top speed of Mach 3, Blue Origin said.
Despite the failure to retrieve its launch vehicle, Blue Origin said it will stick to its plan of launching and landing its rockets vertically.
“We continue to be big fans of the vertical takeoff, vertical landing … because it’s scalable to very large size,” Bezos wrote, and then hinted at the ambition ahead:
“We’re already designing New Shepard’s sibling, her Very Big Brother — an orbital-launch vehicle that is many times New Shepard’s size and is powered by our 550,000-lbf (pound force) thrust liquefied natural gas, liquid oxygen BE-4 engine,” Bezos said.
In a Blue Origin video posted on YouTube, with production values worthy of Amazon Video, Bezos can be seen in the Texas control room Wednesday, watching with intensity as his baby roared into the sky.