Sunday, January 24, 2016

Blue Origin Performs Second Vertical Landing

The same New Shepard booster that flew to space and then landed vertically in November 2015 has now flown and landed again. Credit: Blue Origin

The very same New Shepard booster that flew above the Karman line and then landed vertically at its launch site last November has now flown and landed again, demonstrating reuse. This time, New Shepard reached an apogee of 333,582 feet (101.7 kilometers) before both capsule and booster gently returned to Earth for recovery and reuse.

In a video posted on its website, the company said its New Shepard vehicle made history when it became the first rocket to pass the boundary of space, what’s known as the Karman line, 100 km high, “and then land vertically upon the Earth” for the second time in a row.

Data from the November mission matched the preflight predictions closely, which made preparations for re-flight relatively straightforward. The team replaced the crew capsule parachutes, replaced the pyro igniters, conducted functional and avionics checkouts, and made several software improvements, including a noteworthy one. 

"Rather than the vehicle translating to land at the exact center of the pad, it now initially targets the center, but then sets down at a position of convenience on the pad, prioritizing vehicle attitude ahead of precise lateral positioning. It’s like a pilot lining up a plane with the centerline of the runway. If the plane is a few feet off center as you get close, you don’t swerve at the last minute to ensure hitting the exact mid-point. You just land a few feet left or right of the centerline. The Monte Carlo sims of New Shepard landings show this new strategy increases margins, improving the vehicle’s ability to reject disturbances created by low-altitude winds," said Jeff Bezos, the founder of Blue Origin.

Landing rockets is suddenly all the rage in the space industry. For decades, rocket boosters, the most powerful — and expensive — part of the rocket were discarded into the sea after launch. But Bezos and others, such as SpaceX’s Elon Musk, have been developing boosters that launch vertically, then fly autonomously back to Earth and land like gymnasts sticking a dismount, so that they can be reused.

Recovering and reusing rockets reliably would be a huge breakthrough, analysts say. And the quest to pull off what was once thought as impossible has fueled a post-Cold War space race between Bezos and Musk, his fellow tech billionaire turned space rival.

The Blue Origin company will start full-engine testing of the BE-4 rocket engine and launch and land its New Shepard rocket again.

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