December 11, 2015

Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket successfully flew to the edge of space, reaching the Karman line (100 km/329,839 ft) before a picture-perfect landing in West Texas.

“You’ve seen a lot of rockets take off in your time, but you’ve never seen one land,” Bezos, who also owns Blue Origin, told Charlie Rose on “CBS This Morning.” “The rocket you see behind me is completely reusable. That’s a game changer, because it changes the cost structure of space travel completely.”

Bezos expects his rockets to carry paying customers within two years.

“I’ve been wanting to do that since I was five years old,” he said. “When I talk to astronauts, they tell me that being in space changes you. You see the Earth in a different way, you see yourself in a different way, they describe the experience as being very meaningful. So I want to see the Earth and see its thin atmosphere, I want to look out into space, I want to feel weightlessness and float around and do somersaults, all those things. But I think it’s probably more the way the astronauts describe how it changes you that makes me so excited about the experience.”

During the flight, the vehicle reached Mach 3.72, nearly 4x the speed of sound. This marks the first time that a re-usable vertical take-off/vertical landing vehicle has reached space and returned to its launch site.

“Although the New Shepard is a sub-orbital vehicle rather than an orbital rocket, this is a significant milestone for space tourism.” said Dale Skran, Executive Vice President at the National Space Society. “The successful landing clears the way for a program of sub-orbital research flights over the next year or so, expected to lead to sub-orbital tourist flights.”

With this success, Blue Origin becomes the company to beat in sub-orbital tourism, with rival XCOR yet to make a first flight, and Virgin Galactic recovering from the loss of SpaceShipTwo.

Powered by the 110,000 pound thrust BE-3 liquid hydrogen/oxygen engine, the New Shepard consists of a two parts – a re-usable booster that returns to the launch site and a cargo/passenger capsule that lands separately via parachute.

The entire picture is still uncertain, however. A future crew of up to six would experience 3x the force of gravity on takeoff and 5x the force of gravity during part of the descent, making the landing process more difficult.

Blue Origin has a contract with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to develop the BE-4, a new methane/liquid oxygen engine for the planned ULA Vulcan launch vehicle.