Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ space travel company, successfully launched and “soft” landed its flagship New Shepard rocket Saturday. The launch, which took place in a remote region in West Texas, marks the third time the company — which, in November, one-upped Elon Musk’s SpaceX to become the first private company to land a rocket — has successfully conducted the test.
“Flawless BE-3 restart and perfect booster landing,” Bezos, who has, in the past, refused to announce Blue Origin’s test flights prior to their completion, tweeted. He also added that a video of the test flight would be shared as soon as it is processed.
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) April 2, 2016
While the secretive company had already clinched the vertical launch and landing twice, in November and January, Saturday’s launch was slightly different, as the New Shepard’s BE-3 engines were restarted just 3,600 feet above the ground, leaving very little margin for error. Additionally, the rocket was also carrying two microgravity experiments — developed by the Southwest Research Institute and the University of Central Florida — to suborbital space during its latest test flight.
Traditionally, the first stage of a rocket is discarded after each use, making spaceflight — even a suborbital one — dauntingly expensive. In order to reduce these costs, Blue Origin and SpaceX have been racing to develop reusable rockets. However, unlike SpaceX’s Falcon 9, Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket is only designed to take people to suborbital space — a height of just over 62 miles.
Although Blue Origin was founded in 2000, it captured the limelight only last year, when Bezos announced it would set up shop at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force base, where it will build and launch rockets into orbit “later this decade.” Last month, during a guided tour of the company’s research and development site outside Seattle, Bezos revealed his plans to begin Blue Origin’s first piloted test flights next year and to send its first paying passengers to space as soon as 2018.