Current state of rocket landings

As of this time, Blue Origin has nailed 5 successful landings in a row. The last landing was actually unexpected as the launch was to test (successfully) the launch escape system. The push back was expected to damage the launcher and make it unable to land. In a big plus for Blue Origin, not only did the escape system perform well, the booster was able to make a successful landing as well. Blue Origin may start launching tourists for suborbital flights this year. At least, that’s the plan.

Meanwhile, SpaceX just nailed a landing in Florida after a successful launch of a Dragon cargo vessel to ISS. This was the third success of bringing Falcon 9 first stage back to LZ1. There have also been 5 successful barge landings (4 in the Atlantic, 1 in the Pacific). So what is SpaceX’s record at this juncture? They have 8 successful landings in 18 tests. Consider that on the first 5 tests, all at sea, there was no barge involved. These were strictly systems tests and all the stages were intentionally lost at sea. Now we are talking 8 of 13. There have been 4 successes in a row, 7 successes in the last 8 attempts, 8 successes in the last 11 attempts. Overall, considering the complexity of the systems involved, not a bad record at all!

SpaceX is currently constructing a second landing pad in Florida, LZ2, and LZ3 is in the works. This will come into play when the Falcon 9 Heavy comes on line later this year. Three cores coming down at once! It is anticipated that two will return to LZ1 and LZ2, and the third to a barge in the Atlantic. If SpaceX can pull this one off, it will be a sight to see. A Falcon 9 Heavy launch and three core landings in a single act!

Between Blue Origin and SpaceX, 2017 could be quite a year.

Blue Origin does it yet again. One booster, three launches, three landings.

On April 2, Blue Origin launched its New Shepard booster for the third successful West Texas landing after a suborbital flight. Previous landings of the same booster previous took place on January 22 and November 23, 2015.

The crew capsule successfully landed by parachute shorty after the booster landed.

SpaceX, which has been successful only once (so far), but it has to be noted that the Falcon 9 is larger and, being orbital, has a greater velocity to contend with. SpaceX hopes to be able to recover and reuse a booster sometime in 2016.

Whether it is Blue Origin or SpaceX, recovering a booster is no simple matter. It is, after all, rocket science!

Blue Origin does it again

Kudos go out to Jeff Bezos and the Blue Origin team. Yesterday their New Shepard booster made a successful landing, the second in two months. This was the SAME booster that flew last November 24, and carried the SAME capsule.

True, the booster isn’t as big as Falcon. It doesn’t need to be as it has a different purpose. Falcon is designed for orbital cargo launches, while New Shepard is designed for manned suborbital launches. It doesn’t go as high as Falcon, but it doesn’t need to do that either, for the same reasons.

What IS important is proof of concept. A booster CAN be landed, now proven 3 times, once by SpaceX and twice by Blue Origin. A booster CAN be reused as proven by Blue Origin. Blue Origin also demonstrated the re-usability of a crew capsule. The amount of refurbishment required by New Shepard and the capsule was minimal, also demonstrating the cost savings by reusing hardware.

To argue that one company is better than the other because they were first or are bigger with greater challenges is a meaningless and petty waste of time.

SpaceX and Blue Origin are BOTH great companies with great vision. They have DIFFERENT missions, but share the same objective of re-usability. They are both innovators, and as innovators we can expect to see both triumph and failure from each.  Yesterday Blue Origin experienced triumph.