Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origins is hitting back at Elon Musk’s rocket company SpaceX.
Before we get to what Blue Origin is saying about SpaceX, a quick recap.
On Tuesday morning, Blue Origin hit an important milestone for it flew a reusable rocket to space and back for the first time.
The footage is breathtaking, and it led Musk to tweet out congratulations to Blue Origin and Bezos.
But, Musk couldn’t leave it alone.
Over the next 5 hours, Musk tweeted out more messages, with each getting a bit more denigrating of Blue Origin’s accomplishment.
Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2015
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
What started as “congrats” ended up as, “whatever.”
Since Bezos is not quite as adept at Twitter as Musk, he didn’t get into a Twitter fight. (Or, maybe it’s because he’s adept at Twitter he didn’t get into a Twitter fight?)
However, Jessica Pieczonka, head of communications, at Blue Origin gave us a statement that fires back at Musk:
“SpaceX is only trying to recover their first stage booster, which is of course suborbital. The SpaceX first stage does an in-space deceleration burn to make their re-entry more benign. If anything, the Blue Origin booster may be the one that flies through the harsher re-entry environment. Finally, the hardest part is probably the final landing segment which is the same for both boosters.”
In short, what Pieczonka is saying is that Blue Origin has done something that is harder than what SpaceX is trying to accomplish with the first stage of its reusable Falcon 9 rockets. SpaceX would not address Blue Origin’s comment but asked us to include the following:
“We congratulate Blue Origin on the progress they’re making with vertical take-off and landing of their booster.”
Since this is literally rocket science, we’ve broken down Blue Origin’s statement to make it clear what exactly they’re talking about.
With power comes great design
First, the critical difference between SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets and Blue Origin’s New Shepard’s rockets, which is how high they can carry a payload:
- Falcon 9 rockets can transport satellites to more than 20,000 miles above Earth’s surface
- New Shepard can take a crew capsule to 62 miles above Earth’s surface, a region known as suborbital space.
- New Shepard generates 10% the power that Falcon 9 does because it doesn’t fly as high.
The reason for this difference is because SpaceX is interested in sending payloads into orbit around the Earth, while Blue Origin is interested in sending humans to suborbital space, which doesn’t include orbiting the Earth.
The Falcon 9 can attain greater heights because it includes two parts, or stages, called the first and second stage. Right now, only the first stage, which is the largest, more expensive piece, is designed for reuse.
The first stage of Falcon 9 only goes as far as suborbital space before detaching from the second stage. That’s how high New Shepard also goes.
But unlike New Shepard, which is travelling at 2800 mph when it hits 62 miles, the first stage Falcon 9 is trucking along at 7,600 mph.
Therefore, Falcon 9 has to slow down in order to prep for re-entry and landing. Judging from Blue Origin’s statement, New Shepard does not because its travelling at close to 1/3 the speed:
“SpaceX is only trying to recover their first stage booster, which is of course suborbital. The SpaceX first stage does an in-space deceleration burn to make their re-entry more benign.”
The real dig comes next:
“If anything, the Blue Origin booster may be the one that flies through the harsher re-entry environment.”
It’s hard to test whether this claim is true. However, if New Shepard booster is falling faster at re-entry, then it might, indeed, experience a harsher re-entry.
Why you would deliberately expose your booster to a harsher environment, is anyone’s guess.
Finally, Jessica Pieczonka claims that the landing process is the same for both boosters:
“Finally, the hardest part is probably the final landing segment which is the same for both boosters.”
Which is not quite exactly right. And the reason is simple: it comes down to size.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first stage is 135 feet tall. Blue Origin has not disclosed the height of their booster, but judging by a crude estimate taken from their website, we estimate that it’s anywhere between 60 to 80 feet tall, or roughly half the height of a first stage Falcon 9.
And if you’ve ever tried balancing a broomstick on your hand verses a tooth brush, you’ll know that shorter objects are easier to control.
And the same goes for rocket boosters. Because New Shepard’s booster is smaller and lighters it’s easier to fly and land.
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos is an investor in Business Insider through hispersonal investment company Bezos Expeditions.
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