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Blue Origin Launches Bezos’s Space Dreams and Lands a Rocket

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Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard rocket successfully landed after a test launch on Monday. Credit Blue Origin

This time, Jeffrey P. Bezos’s rocket went up — and it came down in one piece.

Mr. Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has been investing some of his wealth in space dreams, establishing a rocket company called Blue Origin.

On Monday, Blue Origin launched its New Shepard rocket 329,839 feet, or 100.5 kilometers, above its launch site in West Texas, reaching just above the 100-kilometer altitude that is considered the beginning of outer space.

A capsule that is to eventually carry paying passengers on suborbital jaunts separated and successfully descended to the ground under parachutes. The rocket itself then turned around and, firing its engines again, landed back at the launchpad.

“It was a totally nominal flight,” Mr. Bezos said in an interview. “We’re walking on cloud 9. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

Continue reading the main story Video of the New Shepard rocket test launch. Blue Origin

That builds upon a largely successful test flight in April. In that operation, the launch and the landing of the capsule were flawless, but the rocket crashed, because of a failure with a hydraulic system. Mr. Bezos said that engineers had replaced the hydraulics with a new design.

“Think of this as the beginning of a thorough test program,” Mr. Bezos said. The next flight, he said, “should be a matter of weeks.”

The company, based in Kent, Wash., south of Seattle, is selling space on the capsules during the uncrewed test flights for research experiments, and the company plans to begin flying them next year. “There’s no reason not to do that,” Mr. Bezos said.

Commercial flights for tourists, also to launch from West Texas, could begin in a couple of years. Blue Origin has not started selling tickets or decided the cost of a flight, which will provide about four minutes of floating.

Like another upstart rocket company, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, Mr. Bezos and Blue Origin are betting that reusable rockets can greatly reduce the cost of getting to space. Most rockets today fly just once, crashing back to earth after exhausting their fuel.

SpaceX has taken a very similar approach in trying to recover the first stage of its Falcon 9 rockets, coming close to landing them on a floating platform in the Atlantic.

The same technology is to be used in a larger Blue Origin rocket that is be launched to orbit from Cape Canaveral in Florida. “Everything that we have learned here on New Shepard is completely applicable to our orbital booster,” Mr. Bezos said.

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