Historic Rocket Landing

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin has made a historic rocket landing. They then mixed launch and landing footage with some jarring CGI in between:

The New Shepard is a fully reusable vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) space vehicle:

Blue Origin Trajectory


  1. Slovenian Guest says:

    Slashdot commenters are unimpressed:

    “The real difference between this and SpaceX is that in order to get a payload into orbit you need enough thrust to move the fuel required to get you there. This means powerful engines. This rocket had a small engine that is capable of hovering. On an orbital class rocket your engine will have too much thrust making it impossible to hover. That is what SpaceX is trying to do. Land using a thrust to weight greater than one. This is much more difficult than a hovering landing which SpaceX has already done multiple times, along with other test craft decades ago.”

    “To put it another way: the Falcon 9 first stage has a loaded mass of 418 tonnes and an empty mass of 23 tonnes, or a ratio of 18,2 to 1. New Shepard has a loaded mass of 75 tonnes and an empty mass of 20,5 tonnes, or a ratio of 3,66 to 1. Noticing a bit of difference here? New Shepard has, proportionally, 5 times more mass to throw around toward making their landing easy. How easily do you think they could cut their spacecraft to 20% of its current weight and still land? And on top of that, they face far lower wind loadings and heat loadings to boot and have far less crossrange to deal with, making it that much easier on them.”

    “To reinforce the point of comparing a hummingbird to a raptor, Blue Origin’s New Shepherd suborbital vehicle did not substantially travel laterally before landing. They had a near zero lateral velocity (winds in the upper atmosphere do not count) and came back to land at the launch site. The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage however is traveling laterally at Mach 10 upon separation, and attempts to land 200 miles down range. Falcon 9 is also 3 times taller than New Shepherd. Not a fair comparison at all.”

    Apparently “Suborbital spaceflight is the special Olympics of spaceflight.”

    Jeff Bezos is of course the founder of Amazon:
    Bloomberg profiles Jeff Bezos (video)

  2. This is no mean feat in and of itself, however as Slovenian Guest points out it is not really comparable to what SpaceX is trying to do.

  3. Slovenian Guest says:

    I actually didn’t know until today that the Soviet Buran orbiter was the first space shuttle to perform an unmanned space flight, including landing in fully automatic mode.

    Via spaceflightnow (with pics):

    The sleek-looking white space plane, bearing a remarkable outward resemblance of NASA’s space shuttle, only flew once and never took off with cosmonauts on-board.

    After two trips around the world, the Buran re-entered the atmosphere, gliding back to Earth and withstanding temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Operating entirely on autopilot, Buran landed at the Yubileiny airfield in Baikonur about 3 hours and 26 minutes after launch, wrapping its only flight in space, according to RSC Energia.

    “For the first time ever, a spacecraft of such a class was landed completely automatically,” says a mission description on RSC Energia’s website.

    Some contrast from the collectSPACE forum:

    All Space Shuttle landings from STS-1 (1981) through STS-117 (2007) have been brought to a touchdown with the commander at its controls. That said, during the approach, its common for commanders to give their pilots a chance at flying, as it is good practice for when they become commanders and will be expected to land the orbiter.

    Can the Shuttle land automatically? Until very recently, the answer would have been no: a flight crew was required to start the APUs, deploy the landing gear, drag chute, and air data probe.

    As part of the post-Columbia provisions, specifically the procedures for “safe haven”, wherein a damaged shuttle would leave its crew on the ISS and if deemed by the ground safe to do so, reenter and land under remote control (or be ditched in the ocean), a 28-foot cable was developed and now flies on the orbiter that connects the flight deck controls with an avionics bay in the middeck.

    Without any modifications or cables added, it is my understanding the shuttle’s computers can autonomously fly the orbiter to a landing. What the computers cannot do is start themselves, or deploy the landing gear, data probe or drag chute. These are irreversible actions and were they accidentally triggered at any other time then when nominally deployed it could threaten the safety of the crew. Thus these procedures were restricted to manual control only.

    The new cable allows for an empty shuttle (and thus no crew to risk) to land by allowing mission control to trigger these actions at the proper time from the ground. I tend to doubt it would need an astronaut on the ground to control or a separate ground station, as it is simply timed procedures.

    And from the STS-3 (1982) wiki, the third mission for the Space Shuttle Columbia (which would disintegrate during re-entry in 2003):

    The final approach was in part flown by the shuttle’s autopilot, but the autoland program was not complete, and it was not meant to be an automatic landing. Rolling out on final, the autopilot was reengaged, and responded by closing the speedbrakes, resulting in increased speed. The autopilot then commanded full speedbrakes, and kept oscillating like this for some time. Lousma left the autopilot activated in order to gather data on its behavior, but disconnected it again at a very late stage to touch down manually. The landing was also one of the more dramatic of the program, with the landing gear deploying at an altitude of 150 feet (46 m) at a speed of 275 knots (509 km/h) and locking just five seconds before touchdown, and the nose being raised again right before nose-gear touchdown. Lousma did not know that the autoland system was still partially engaged until Fullerton warned him, causing Lousma to pitch up; Charles F. Bolden, who had worked on the autoland system early in his astronaut career, stated in 2004 that “he saved the vehicle” by doing so.

  4. Bob Sykes says:

    The Buran is still sitting in a hangar somewhere. Some Russians want to restart the program. Maybe China would fund it.

Leave a Reply