For some time rocket scientists have been trying to build a rocket that they can land safely on Earth after it has launched its payload into space, instead of burning up on re-entry. This would make access to space almost a hundred times cheaper than it currently is. SpaceX have been trying to launch and safely land the Falcon 9 rocket for most of 2015, but so far haven’t had much success.
Now, however, it has been done! Blue Origin, a company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has announced that they managed to launch their New Shepard craft to a height of 100.5 kilometres (that’s just past the edge of space, a boundary known as the Karman line) and then return it safely to the ground. The New Shepard landed less than 140 centimetres away from the centre of the pad, an amazing achievement, and Jeff Bezos has released a video of the New Shepard’s launch and landing.
Critics have pointed out that although the New Shepard passed the Karman line, it isn’t capable of reaching low earth orbit; it’s also a lot smaller than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 craft, which is capable of going into orbit. New Shepard needed to reach Mach 3 in order to reach the Karman line, while the Falcon 9 needs to reach speeds of around Mach 30 in order to reach orbit. Landing the Falcon 9 safely is far harder than landing the much lighter and slower New Shepard, but this is still a very impressive step forward in rocket technology.