Most will probably be familiar with SpaceX for its much publicized rocket launches and landings, but it isn’t the only one in that, er, space. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is has also been launching and landing rockets and even has quite a lead on SpaceX when it comes to rocket reuse. The company has just recently conducted its eighth mission, with a successful landing, of course, that also marks the highest altitude the rocket has ever reached since the initial mission in 2015.
To be clear, this is not the same New Shepard rocket that took off three years ago. It is actually the third (NS3) rocket and second space capsule from the company. The NS3 now has two launches and landings under its belt. And if its predecessor’s track record is any indication, we can expect a lot more.
This eighth mission is historic for the company in more ways than that. During its 10-minute test flight, which was delayed already a couple of times due to inclement weather, the New Shepard reached an altitude of 351,000 feet (66 miles, 107 kilometers). That’s a lot more than Blue Origin’s usual 62 miles and is actually their target altitude but still below orbit.
Unlike SpaceX, Blue Origin is more interested in space tourism rather than going into or beyond orbit. It’s not meant to travel that far, making landings easier and safer. That said, the company does have a heavy rocket planned, the New Glenn, that will launch missions from orbit.
Mission 8 is also monumental in being Blue Origin’s second commercial payload, the first being last December with the NS3’s maiden launch. In addition to “Mannequin Skywalker”, the Space Capsule 2.0 also carried science and technology experiments from NASA and, for the first time, European agencies and universities.