Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and SpaceX's Elon Musk have transformed the space race from a game of nations into a personal squabble between two billionaires, and science is the better for it. They keep knocking down the barriers to cheap space exploration in their tussle, and last night Bezos' Blue Origin firm scored another historical first when it safely landed its New Shepard rocket in West Texas again after its second visit to space.
"The very same New Shepard booster that flew above the Karman line and then landed vertically at its launch site last November has now flown and landed again, demonstrating reuse," Bezos said in a blog post.
It's a fairly humble statement for a potentially world-changing achievement. With reusable rockets, Blue Origin, SpaceX, and other organizations like NASA won't constantly be wasting them by letting their costly launch stages burn up in the atmosphere, thus considerably lessening the financial burden of repeated missions. Landing them is impressive enough, but proving they can be reused is another leap forward entirely.
As important as it was, the fanfare of New Shepard's November landing was spectacularly eclipsed a month later when the first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 orbital rocket vertically landed back on Earth after a 200-kilometer trip up. That's roughly double the barely-counts-as-space heights achieved by New Shepard on both trips. And that's just a small part of SpaceX's achievement—the Falcon 9 traveled at roughly double New Shepard's speed and deployed 11 new communications satellites with its second stage.
Yet SpaceX hasn't attempted to reuse the Falcon 9 rocket that made history in December. Instead, last weekend it opted for third attempt at landing a rocket on an ocean barge rather than on the land-based Cape Canaveral pad used for the successful landing. As with the other barge attempts, it didn't go so well.
In the meantime, Bezos has snagged back some glory, and he claims Blue Origin plans to achieve the same feat "again and again" over the year ahead.
Naturally, though, we're eager to see when Musk will achieve the same success.