Blue Origin, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' privately funded space effort, launched and landed its reusable rocket and space vehicle at the company's Texas launch facility.

Blue Origin's New Shepard space vehicle reached Mach 3.72 on its way to the planned test altitude of 100.5 kilometers. It touched down via parachute 11 minutes later. The vehicle's rocket booster, which separated from the crew capsule after the powered flight, made a controlled vertical landing four and a half feet from the center of the pad from which it was launched.

Blue Origin's rocket booster returned from sub-orbit to make a controlled vertical landing. Image credit: Blue OriginBlue Origin's rocket booster returned from sub-orbit to make a controlled vertical landing. Image credit: Blue Origin"Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again,” says Bezos.

Blue Origin was founded with the goal of "greatly increasing the number of people that fly into space." That means, in particular, developing reusable rockets to lower the cost of spaceflight.

The landing of Blue Origin's rocket means that Bezos has, for the moment at least, stolen the spotlight from fellow billionaire Elon Musk, who is working, via his company SpaceX, to land a Falcon 9 booster on a barge after delivering a payload into space.

Named in honor of the first American in space, Alan Shepard, the New Shepard vertical takeoff/vertical landing (VTVL) vehicle is designed to carry six passengers to altitudes beyond 100 kilometers so that they can experience launch, weightlessness and views from high above earth.

The vehicle's rocket booster is powered by a single BE-3 liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen engine. At liftoff it delivers 110,000 pounds of thrust. During ascent, passengers will experience three times the force of gravity as the craft accelerates through the atmosphere.

Following powered flight, the capsule separates from the booster and coasts into space, providing several minutes of weightlessness. As the capsule descends, it reenters the atmosphere with passengers experiencing about five times the force of gravity. The craft then deploys three main parachutes for landing. Meanwhile, the booster, just prior to landing, re-ignites its engine, which slows the rocket to less than five mph for a powered vertical landing, enabling reuse.

According to Blue Origin, the VTVL design was chosen because it is scalable to large size. The company is designing New Shepard’s sibling, a larger launch vehicle that will be powered by a 550,000-lbf-thrust liquefied natural gas, liquid oxygen BE-4 engine.

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