Blue Origin set a new mark for recycling rockets Tuesday morning by sending the same New Shepard spacecraft to the edge of space for the seventh time.
The spaceflight company founded and funded by Amazon head Jeff Bezos completed its 13th New Shepard mission from its private launch facility in west Texas while also testing some key equipment for future NASA missions to the moon.
The mission was originally set for late September from the Texas site, but was delayed multiple times due to weather and technical issues. It finally left Earth at 6:37 a.m. PT (8:37 a.m. Texas time) Tuesday and returned to land at the same facility in two pieces just about 10 minutes later.
The sixth landing of the same New Shepard booster.
A few minutes after blasting off, the crew capsule carrying most of the experiments separated from the rocket booster. The booster returned to the Earth for a precision landing, while the capsule drifted back to the surface with the help of parachutes a few minutes later.
In the future, Blue Origin is planning to sell trips to space for intrepid tourists who will take a ride in the crew capsule.
During its short time in microgravity, Mission NS-13 and its dozen payloads aim to gather scads of data for a number of tests and experiments, including a demonstration of a lunar landing sensor that will test technologies for future moon missions as part of NASA’s Artemis program.
The sensor is the first payload to ride mounted to the exterior of New Shepard rather than inside its capsule.
A few of the other payloads on board this flight of New Shepard include a test of a new system to autonomously grow aquatic plants that could supplement a crew’s diet and of a new cooling system developed by NASA for spacecraft electronics.
SpaceX, another commercial space outfit headed by a famous billionaire, in the form of Elon Musk, has so far used a single Falcon 9 booster up to six times. It’s worth noting, though, that the Falcon 9 is a different class of rocket that is used for more technically complicated orbital missions.
You can watch a recording of the launch live feed below.