The golden age of rocketry may be upon us. Billionaires who made quick dot-com cash successfully launching commercial rockets is officially a trend, now that Jeff Bezos, of Amazon fame, has followed in the footsteps of Elon Musk with Wednesday’s successful test flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
Bezos’ company has been slowly working on the rocket, with tests of its liquid hydrogen BE-3 engine over the past few years, both at its test facility in Van Horn, Texas and at NASA facilities.
According to a blog post by Bezos, the engine successfully powered the unmanned crew capsule at Mach 3 to the planned test altitude of 307,000 feet, where separation was successful.
“Any astronauts on board would have had a very nice journey into space and a smooth return,” writes Bezos.
Yet the test was not a complete success. Much like SpaceX’s Falcon 9, one of Blue Origin’s goals is for its rockets to be reusable, and the test module was unable to be recovered due to a loss of pressure in its hydraulic system during descent.
Bezos claims improved hydraulics are already in the works and test rockets number two and three are in the process of being assembled. Blue Origin is also working on a bigger, more powerful launch system in partnership with incumbent United Launch Alliance that will power ULA’s next-generation launches.
The successful launch is reminiscent of early American commercial aviation where successes came fast and thick and there were a multitude of commercial airplane makers. As the industry matured the number of truly viable firms shrank to the handful that exist today. It remains to be seen where Blue Origin fits, as the commercial space market will undoubtedly experience a similar shakeout.