A fully reusable rocket has been landed successfully for the first time, by Blue Origin, the space startup owned by Amazon.com founder CEO Jeff Bezos.
The New Shepard suborbital space vehicle launched successfully to an altitude of 100.5 kilometres Monday morning. It deployed a crew capsule designed to carry six people before returning to Earth and touching back down on its launch pad in West Texas, Blue Origin announced Tuesday.
"Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts — a used rocket," Bezos said in a news release. "Full reuse is a game changer, and we can't wait to fuel up and fly again."
Bezos also shared the news in the only tweet on the Twitter account he set up in 2008.
The rarest of beasts - a used rocket. Controlled landing not easy, but done right, can look easy. Check out video: https://t.co/9OypFoxZk3— @JeffBezos
The rocket landed just 1.4 metres from the centre of the launch pad, Bezos said.
A video shows the rocket dropping down and nearly stopping and hovering in the air about a rocket length above the landing pad as it deployed its landing gear, before tilting and descending slowly onto the launch pad in a voluminous cloud of brown dust.
"Welcome back, New Shepard," says a man's voice in the video.
The unmanned crew capsule landed separately using parachutes.
The New Shepard is named after Alan Shepard, the first American in space.
Blue Origin isn't the only company trying to build a reusable rocket – a development that could potentially save millions or even tens of millions of dollars per launch.
SpaceX has also made several attempts to land a reusable version of its Falcon 9 rocket on an ocean platform in the past year. During the most recent attempt in April, the rocket touched down successfully, then toppled over and exploded.
Unlike Blue Origin, which is only flying to suborbital space, SpaceX has been using its rockets to launch cargo to the space station – about four times higher than Blue Origin is flying.