Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos' Twitter spat gets at the core of what separates SpaceX and Blue Origin

There’s a bit of a Twitter fight happening between SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos — the two private spaceflight companies leading the future of reusable rocket technology.

On Tuesday, Nov. 23 Blue Origin hit a major milestone for their company by successfully launching and landing their New Shepard space launch vehicle for the first time. Bezos was very proud, tweeting:

Elon Musk quickly retaliated with the following tweet:

Musk’s tweet is a bit of a low blow, but it gets at the core of the main differences between SpaceX and Blue Origin, and here’s why:

Blue Origin’s first successful landing (shown below) came after they had launched their unmanned vehicle to 62 miles above Earth’s surface.

The flight is what is called a “suborbital spaceflight” because the spacecraft did not travel high or fast enough to achieve a single orbit around the Earth. And that’s what Blue Origin is after: suborbital spaceflight that will ferry paying customers to space and back so they can experience a brief 10 minutes of weightlessness.

However, if Blue Origin is going to imply that it’s the first to achieve suborbital spaceflight with a reusable rocket, then Musk will have something to say about it.┬áSpaceX beat Blue Origin by a few years, which explains Musk’s follow-up tweet:

In his two tweets, Musk references one of SpaceX’s major accomplishments, the Grasshopper rocket booster, which was the companies first successful reusable rocket, tested throughout 2012 and most of 2013.

The Grasshopper flew and landed a total of eight times before it was retired in late 2013. You can watch all of the test flights and landings on YouTube.

And while Grasshopper performed eight suborbital flights, the highest it ever flew was 0.49 miles on its last flight on Oct. 7, 2013. Not very high compared to the 62 mile marker Blue Origin just achieved.

However, Musk’s tweet makes an important point: That suborbital flights are insignificant for his ultimate goal, which is to send and return astronauts to Mars. To do that, you must have a rocket that can achieve orbital spaceflight.

And Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle is not powerful enough to make it. However, Bezos announced last Sept. that they are in the preliminary stages of designing a rocket that could achieve orbital spaceflight.

To Bezos’ credit, New Shepard now holds the record as the suborbital reusable rocket that has travelled the highest and vertically landed in one piece. It’s a significant achievement for reusable rocket technology.

Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.

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