The race for reusable spacecraft is on, and the forerunners of this contest are SpaceX and Blue Origin. SpaceX may have landed their rocket from a far higher altitude, but have never achieved (or attempted) a repeat performance. Meanwhile, Blue Origin’s New Shepherd spacecraft has completed its third takeoff and landing using the same vehicle, and this time, it performed something spectacular, a suicide burn landing.
For those who don’t know, a suicide burn landing is when the craft burns its engines at the last possible moment on the return trajectory. By only burning at 100% power as late as possible, it allows the rocket to land in the most efficient manner, as it doesn’t have to fight gravity all the way down and as the atmosphere thickens, it will provide some assistance in arresting the speed of the craft. Of course, should the time to reignite the boosters be wrong, the landing will turn into a spectacular fireball as the rocket collides with the ground.
The success of this landing furthers Blue Origin’s bragging rights in its contest with SpaceX who have not relaunched the Falcon 9 rocket that performed a successful landing and has had a recent series of failures to land, perhaps due to their attempts to do so at sea. Blue Origin are also getting closer and closer to their goal of offering low orbital space trips for tourists with the New Shepherd, with the project still on track to offer its first trips to customers by 2018.