Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin launches and lands its rocket for a third time

By Miriam Kramer

The private rocket company Blue Origin has successfully launched and landed its suborbital rocket in an uncrewed test for the third time, according to tweets from the company's founder Jeff Bezos.

The New Shepard space system took to the sky on April 2, one day after Bezos announced the suborbital rocket would fly again. It reached 339,138 feet before coming back to the ground.

This same rocket has flown to the edge of space two times previously, in November 2015 and January 2016.

This third launch and landing marks yet another step on the company's way toward creating a fleet of reusable space vehicles that could greatly reduce the cost of getting payloads and people to space.

Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos )
Working to fly again tomorrow. Same vehicle. Third time. #LaunchLandRepeat @BlueOrigin

Bezos actually live-tweeted the test from Blue Origin's facility in Texas, marking a new level of transparency for the usually secretive private spaceflight company.

This apparent change in policy may be a sign of the company's confidence in its rocket and capsule design.

Blue Origin planned a more risky rocket landing for this test flight, only re-lighting the rocket when it was about 3,600 feet from the ground.

According to Bezos, if something went wrong and the stage didn't re-light, the booster would have crashed into the ground 6 seconds after it was expected to kick back on again.

Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos )
Pushing the envelope. Restarting BE-3 fast @ high thrust, just 3600 ft from ground. Impact in 6 sec if engine doesn’t restart & ramp fast.

Luckily, everything seemed to go off without a hitch.

Bezos called the rocket landing "flawless," and said that the New Shepard crew capsule (CC) made it back to the ground under its parachutes.

Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos )
Flawless BE-3 restart and perfect booster landing. CC chutes
deployed. @BlueOrigin

This test also carried with it a couple microgravity experiments.

One experiment — called the Box of Rocks Experiment — is designed to see how materials mimicking the environment of an asteroid behave in weightlessness, while another investigation looked at how things collide in weightlessness.

Blue Origin is in the middle of its suborbital testing program at the moment, but eventually, they want to launch paying customers to suborbital space aboard the New Shepard.

Space tourists that fly with the company — which is expected to start launching crewed test flights in 2017 — will get the chance to see the the Earth against the blackness of space an experience minutes of weightlessness.

Blue Origin is also planning to build and launch orbital-class rockets from Florida to bring heavier payloads — including humans — into orbit.

Millions of people in space

Bezos' overall plan for the future of spaceflight is much more grand, however.

One day Bezos wants millions of people in space simultaneously.

"The vision for Blue [Origin] is pretty simple," Bezos said in 2015. "We want to see millions of people living and working in space, and that’s going to take a long time. It’s a worthwhile goal."

In order to make that dream a reality, Blue Origin is attempting to make their rockets reusable, so instead of discarding rocket bodies after launching satellites, people or experiments to space, those rockets can come back to the ground for refurbishment.

By flying those rockets time and time again, it may one day mean that the cost of a rocket ride will be the price of the fuel it takes to get the booster off the planet.

And Bezos isn't alone in aiming for reusability.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk also hopes that his company will one day have a stock of reusable rockets that can fly to space multiple times.

Last year, SpaceX brought the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket back from space after launching 11 satellites to orbit.