Blue Origin’s New Shepard booster has demonstrated its ability for continuous re-use, having flown over the Karman line and landed vertically at its launch site – before flying again and also landing again successfully. That was last year November.
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When New Shepard did it again, it reached the greatest distance a satellite can reach in orbit far away from Earth at about 333,582 feet or 101.7 km before the booster and its capsule returned to Earth to land gently on its launch site, prompting further re-use.
Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin noted that statistics gathered from the November mission helped chart preflight conditions for the recent mission closely, and the data assisted with the re-flight conducted on Friday.
To this end, the technical crew was able to replace the parachutes for the crew capsule, the pyro igniters, and also ran tests on avionics while not forgetting to improve several software needed to make the mission a success.
This is what informed the vehicle landing on a position of convenience on its pad rather than the exact center of the pad, giving priority to attitude ahead of exact lateral positioning.
“It’s like a pilot lining up a plane with the centerline of the runway,” Bezos explained. “If the plane is a few feet off center as you get close, you don’t swerve at the last minute to ensure hitting the exact mid-point. You just land a few feet left or right of the centerline. Our Monte Carlo sims of New Shepard landings show this new strategy increases margins, improving the vehicle’s ability to reject disturbances created by low-altitude winds.”
Bezos added that he preferred rocket-powered vertical landing because building very large rocket boosters would be a requirement for transporting large passengers to live and work in space – the ultimate aim of many space researches.
This is not to mention the fact that vertical landing architecture is much better than others because it helps in solving the challenge of inverted pendulum which actually is better solved with larger pendulums.
“Try balancing a pencil on the tip of your finger. Now try it with a broomstick. The broomstick is simpler because its greater moment of inertia makes it easier to balance. We solved the inverted pendulum problem on New Shepard with an engine that dynamically gimbals to balance the vehicle as it descends,” Bezos confirmed.
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New Shepard happens to be the smallest booster designed and constructed by Blue Origin, and possibly the smallest in the company’s orbital vehicles. More details about this first orbital vehicle will appear this year, since the space company is about three years ahead in developing its first orbital vehicle.