On Sunday, April 29, Blue Origin launched the third New Shepard rocket with its passenger dummy named Mannequin Skywalker. The private space company founded by Jeff Bezos tested its eighth rocket design, reaching its highest flight so far. Despite the last-minute weather delays and countdown holds due to short notice checks, the company was able to launch and land the booster rocket, while its space capsule smoothly landed just minutes later.
According to Bezos, there will be more test flights to be done and they aim to eventually carry passengers into space within an eleven-minute journey inside a space capsule. With the help of parachutes, the space vehicle will flawlessly land while the rocket descends back with a powered landing. Armed with a mission, the space crash dummy’s collected data will greatly improve further research and studies to attain the company’s dream of bringing tourists into space. The New Shepard’s latest apogee has been set to its target altitude at 351,000 feet.
On the other hand, SpaceX’s launch of Falcon Heavy in February marked its remarkable performance as it’s considered one of the most awaited rocket launches in the last 10 years. In 2011, SpaceX initially announced its plans to build Falcon Heavy with the target goal to launch it in 2013 or 2014. But due to a couple of failures of Falcon 9, the mission has been delayed for quite some time. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, said it was actually harder to create Falcon Heavy than they thought. Successfully, all their labor and hard work came into fruition as the rocket made its take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Falcon Heavy soared into space with its payload – the red Tesla Roadster owned by Musk.
With the flight’s success, the two core rockets of Falcon Heavy impressively touched down back on Earth’s surface moments after its takeoff. During midflight, the outer boosters shifted away and made their way back to the Cape. In total, SpaceX has a record of 23 rockets that landed upright. Currently, the Falcon Heavy maintains the title for the most powerful rocket in the world, and this launch is the first time an automobile was sent to space orbit by a commercial company. The rocket also boasts of its 27 engines, creating a combination of five million pounds of force for each takeoff. It also means that the Falcon Heavy can carry approximately 140,000 pounds of payloads into Earth’s lower orbit.
The rocket has two more missions to be accomplished in 2018. It is scheduled to carry a huge Saudi Arabian satellite named “Arabsat 6A” in the first half of the year. In June, it aims to send up a test cargo for the US Air Force in order to get the rocket certified for national security missions.
Potential customers could get more interested in Falcon Heavy sooner or later. With its cheap price, it could be more appealing for NASA to use it to launch robotic missions into space or humans to journey again to the Moon.
Both Bezos and Musk race to create reusable rockets. But unlike Musk, Bezos is not interested to “Space Race” when it comes to his company’s approach to space. While Musk is busy showing off his achievements and blatantly made it clear that he is quite drawn to igniting competition, Blue Origin’s Head of Public Relations, Caitlin O’Keefe Dietrich, said in an interview that the company is not aiming to take the challenge that SpaceX has presented. In another perspective, SpaceX and Blue Origin operate very differently from each other. Though both rocket companies are founded by white male billionaires, Bezos has been focusing to solidify its company as a rocket manufacturer outside the public’s watchful eye. Meanwhile, Musk’s company functions as satellite internet provider, a rocket corporation, and aims to colonize the solar system.
SpaceX and Blue Origin have also both stated that their goal is to begin carrying paying passengers on space flights next year. This means that they need to start moving this year to test launch their own crews and rockets. Blue Origin recently unveiled its gigantic New Glenn rocket and it’s scheduled to have its first flight by the end of 2020, declaring a statement that they think of long-term goals instead of testing from rocket to rocket. SpaceX has now begun assigning the majority of its engineering teams to bigger BFR because according to Musk, “Falcon Heavy was a bit small.” Only time will tell if any competitive advantage can be gained by SpaceX over Blue Origin, but as we watch these two rocket companies create a healthy competition with each other, let’s just enjoy the product of their rocket science and wait for the time they can bring us into space.