This year is shaping up to be an extremely exciting time for the future of spaceflight, which is being built on the backbone of revolutionary 21st-century reusable rockets.
And the private American space companies Blue Origin and SpaceX are paving the way.
Blue Origin, which was founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in 2000, successfully launched and landed (shown to the right, or above on mobile) its New Shepard reusable launch system on Nov. 23, after an unsuccessful first attempt earlier this year on April 29.
It is a historic moment for Blue Origin, and SpaceX — who has launched and landed reusable rockets at their test site near Brownsville, Texas since 2012 — congratulates them, telling Business Insider:
“We congratulate Blue Origin on the progress they’re making with vertical take-off and landing of their booster.”
But, as Musk pointed out on Twitter, there’s a big difference between “space” and “orbital.” A suborbital rocket doesn’t pack nearly enough punch to actually launch a spacecraft:
That means the Blue Origin rocket landing was much easier to pull off than all the so far unsuccessful attempts Musk’s SpaceX company has made:
Getting to space needs ~Mach 3, but GTO orbit requires ~Mach 30. The energy needed is the square, i.e. 9 units for space and 900 for orbit.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2015
In other words, Bezos’ rocket would need to be about 100 times more powerful to actually launch something into orbit.
So Bezos may have won the warm up round, but Musk’s company could still pull off the world’s first reusable orbital rocket.
That said, it’s important to know the difference between the two companies — their goals, and, most of all, their reusable rocket technology.
Blue Origin vs. SpaceX
Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle includes a booster rocket with a space vehicle on top.
The vehicle is designed to eventually ferry six people to space, where they can experience weightlessness for 10 minutes before returning to Earth.
The ride is for entertainment purposes and therefore not exclusively for astronauts. This business that Blue Origin is leading is called commercial spaceflight.
SpaceX’s Dragon 2 spacecraft, on the other hand, is designed to ferry seven astronauts at a time to and from the International Space Station by late 2017. And they make their money by gaining contracts with NASA to supply the International Space Station and by securing contracts with private companies to launch satellites into orbit.
Moreover, you can buy a ticket to ride on one of Blue Origin’s vehicles, but you have to be an astronaut to ride with SpaceX. This brings us to why the two company’s space launch vehicles look so different, because they’re designed for two very different purposes.
Falcon 9 vs. New Shepard
The reason the Falcon 9 can produce so much more power is because it’s a two-stage rocket — meaning it has two parts — whereas Blue Origin’s is a single-stage rocket.
The benefit of a single-stage rocket is that it is smaller, lighter, cheaper to build, cheaper to launch, and less complicated to fly.
Despite these advantages, they are also the reason Blue Origin’s latest rocket will not be transporting supplies or astronauts to the ISS. (SpaceX is in agreement with NASA to launch astronauts in space by 2017.)
New Shepard is designed for what is called suborbital spaceflight, where the rocket reaches space but is not high enough or fast enough to place its spacecraft into a complete orbit around the Earth.
Suborbital space is about 62 miles above Earth, which is the maximum heights New Shepard can reach. The International Space Station is 4 times higher than that.
Right now, Blue Origin is working on a more powerful engine that could boost future rockets into higher, orbital space, and that engine is still under development, according to Blue Origin’s website.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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