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Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard booster flies again

Two months after it flew into space and landed smoothly, Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard booster made the trip again Friday, proving it can be reused for future space tourism jaunts and laying the groundwork for a future commercial satellite launcher, the company said.

The hydrogen-fueled single stage rocket took off and landed at a West Texas test facility owned by Jeff Bezos, who founded Blue Origin in 2000.

Friday’s test, which Blue Origin only announced after its completion, made the New Shepard the first commercial rocket to blast off from the ground under its own power, fly into space and return to Earth intact, then launch again.

Blue Origin said the rocket reached a peak altitude of 333,582 feet, or 101.7 kilometers, on its short up-and-down test flight. The company did not release the duration of Friday’s flight, but a launch following a similar profile Nov. 24 lasted about 11 minutes.

The rocket carried an unoccupied crew capsule, which separated from the New Shepard after its hydrogen-burning BE-3 engine switched off. The crew capsule — a testbed for Blue Origin’s future space tourism ambitions — parachuted to a landing in the West Texas desert.

While the New Shepard did not attain the speed required to reach Earth orbit, it did pass the internationally-recognized boundary of space of about 62 miles, or 100 kilometers.

The Nov. 24 flight made history, with the New Shepard completing the first vertical rocket-assisted landing of a vehicle that flew into space.

Bezos wrote on the company’s website that engineers replaced a few components on the vehicle since November, such as the crew capsule’s parachutes and the rocket’s pyro igniters.

“Data from the November mission matched our preflight predictions closely, which made preparations for today’s re-flight relatively straightforward,” Bezos wrote.

Engineers also made several software improvements, including a change directing the rocket to touch down on its landing pad differently. The New Shepard’s old software told the rocket to land at the center of the circular concrete touchdown zone, while the updated logic allows the booster to come down where it wants, based on the vehicle’s attitude and position.

“It’s like a pilot lining up a plane with the centerline of the runway,” Bezos wrote. “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.”

Bezos said the software update increases margins and makes the rocket landings more resilient to low-altitude winds.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

Source: Space Flight

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Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard booster flies again

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