Over the weekend, Blue Origin, the space agency backed by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, made yet another successful landing of the New Shepard rocket. In fact, this is the third time that very same rocket was launched and landed, first in November and then in January. The company has finally shared the edited video footage of that launch. And while the video seemed almost ordinary and normal, which is probably part of the message, it almost belies the significance of Blue Origin’s achievement in the fields of space science and space travel.
For its third landing attempt, Blue Origin did a few things quite differently. First, it actually pre-announced the launch a day before it happened, instead of holding it in complete secrecy and only announcing the results afterwards. To some extent, it hints at the company’s confidence that there would be no problems here as well.
But perhaps more importantly, Blue Origin only fired off the rocket’s engines for landing a mere 3,600 feet above ground. That left almost no margin for error and seemed like Blue Origin was tempting fate. There was little reason to worry, however, as the rocket landed safely without a hitch.
With a third non-eventful landing under its belt, Blue Origin might soon schedule a few more over the coming months, perhaps with less down time in between. There might come a time that these successful landings become so regular that they become almost boring. And that’s perhaps the point. These days, there isn’t any media frenzy every time an airplane lands, exactly because they have become the norm. Blue Origin’s goal of reusable sub-orbital rockets and more affordable spaceflight will reach its completion when rocket launches and landings become as plain as that.
Equally important is the short turnaround for each launch, though this third one took a bit longer compared to the less than two month gap between the first and second landings. The less need to repair a rocket after a launch, the less time needed to prepare for the next one. As Blue Origin itself says, “Launch. Land. Repeat.”
Depending on how the next tests would go, Blue Origin could shift to carrying humans on each launch as early as 2017. Whether the New Shepard rocket is still in tip-top shape by then, only time will tell.