The Blue Origin launch vehicle New Shepard, consisting of a BE-3 rocket and crew capsule, lifted off from the west Texas sands, traveled to the legally defined limit of space of 100 km (62 miles) and returned.
Bezos boasted that the BE-3 is "now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas, [and] is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket." He added that "it flew a flawless mission -- soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 199-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four-and-a-half feet from the center of the pad." In the video below, you can see the rocket approaching the ground at dramatically high speeds, then slowing rapidly with a final rocket thrust as the landing gear deploys. Meanwhile, the drogue parachutes on the capsule unfurled at 20,045 feet, helping the crew craft make a (fairly) gentle desert "splashdown."I'll embed this one.
The main purpose of this rocket, at least if you poke around their website, appears to be space tourism. They will take six people up at a time, once this gets going, for four minutes of weightlessness and the "biggest windows in space". They also advertise:
Given that, I think the Engadget article headline, "Jeff Bezos beats Elon Musk's SpaceX in the reusable rocket race" is not just misleading, it's wrong. SpaceX made a landing of a suborbital rocket on ground over a year ago, and did it with their Grasshopper technology demonstrator in 2012. SpaceX has failed so far to land a Falcon 9 booster on small, moving ship at sea, dropping from a greater height. I think that's at least marginally harder due to coming from a higher starting point. Blue Origin is catching up with SpaceX.
Designed with researchers in mindWith approximately three minutes in a high-quality microgravity environment, an apogee of over 100 km, and a comfortable shirt-sleeve cabin environment, our New Shepard system is ideal for microgravity physics, gravitational biology, technology demonstrations, and educational programs. You’ll also have the opportunity for Earth, atmospheric, and space science research.
More competition is good, and kudos to Blue Origin for accomplishing this. A healthy private space program is a good thing.