On January 22, 2016, two months after Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket first successfully flew to the edge of space and returned to its launch site intact, Blue Origin again made history by re-flying the same vehicle. On this second launch the New Shepard passed the Karman line that defines the boundary of space, reaching an altitude of 333,582 ft before a spot-on landing in West Texas. This marks the first time that a re-usable vertical take-off/vertical landing vehicle has reached space and returned to its launch site and then done the same thing again using the same vehicle. Both the New Shepard cargo/crew capsule and booster were re-used on this uncrewed test flight.
Jeff Bezos reported that “The team replaced the crew capsule parachutes, replaced the pyro igniters, conducted functional and avionics checkouts, and made several software improvements, including one noteworthy one.” This major change allowed the New Shepard to land a bit off-target while providing better resistance to possible cross-winds. Bezos added, “Though wings and parachutes have their adherents and their advantages, I’m a huge fan of rocket-powered vertical landing. Why? Because—to achieve our vision of millions of people living and working in space—we will need to build very large rocket boosters. And the vertical landing architecture scales extraordinarily well.”
Dale Skran, NSS Executive Vice President said, “NSS members look forward to future crewed flights of the New Shepard and an exciting future of operational sub-orbital tourism.”
“Blue Origin’s successful re-use of the New Shepard booster after reaching the edge of space represents a major step toward a fully re-usable sub-orbital vehicle,” said Bruce Pittman, NSS Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. “We endorse Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos’ vision of ‘millions of people living and working in space’—this is the heart and soul of the NSS Roadmap to Space Settlement (get a free PDF of this document at www.nss.org/settlement/roadmap). Today that vision made a significant step closer to realization.”