Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos beat Elon Musk’s SpaceX on Monday by successfully landing an unmanned test rocket – a historic feat that could greatly reduce the cost of space travel.
Bezos’ private space company, Blue Origin, said Tuesday that its New Shepard space vehicle flew into space, reached its planned altitude of 329,839 feet and successfully landed back at its launch site in western Texas.
“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts -- a used rocket,” Bezos said in a statement. “Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again.”
Hawthorne-based SpaceX has tried repeatedly to reland its rocket on an ocean barge, but has only come close.
Creating a reusable rocket has long been a goal of the space industry since it has the potential to sharply lower costs.
A video provided by Blue Origin shows the rocket slowly returning to the ground, eventually landing upright. The company said the engine slows the vehicle to 4.4 mph for touchdown.
The New Shepard’s unoccupied crew capsule, designed to hold six astronauts, parachuted to a landing after separating from the rocket.
Musk congratulated Bezos on Twitter. Yet he also pointed out that his Falcon 9 rocket – which launches satellites and flies cargo to the space station -- travels many times faster than the New Shepard. Bezos’ rocket is designed to take passengers to suborbital space.
Congrats to Jeff Bezos and the BO team for achieving VTOL on their booster— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2015
Bezos has long wanted Blue Origin to fly humans into space. In September, he announced that the company would build and launch rockets from Cape Canaveral, Fla., pitting him in a space race with Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.
On Tuesday, Bezos said he hopes to fly passengers as soon as 2017.
“I’m hopeful that a couple years from now we’ll start commercial operations,” he said in a conference call.
Asked if he would fly on the rocket, Bezos answered, “Absolutely. I’ve been wanting to do that since I was 5 years old.”