Blue Origin Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos presented more details about his company’s New Glenn orbital launch rocket and vehicle system on Tuesday morning, which will be used for the company’s first satellite launch around the 2021 timeframe. And the new vision for the rocket seems to be taking cues from rival SpaceX — specifically the whole landing-a-rocket-on-a-droneship thing.
Blue Origin, Bezos announced at the 2017 SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C., just inked its first-ever contract with a customer: Eutelsat Communications SA. Communications satellites are commonly placed into higher orbital regions above the planet’s surface. Unlike the suborbital New Shepard system, New Glenn will have the capability of going to those higher-up altitudes.
But like its predecessor, New Glenn will comprise of a reusable booster that will fly back to Earth and land upright. And here’s where Blue Origin has probably watched SpaceX own rocket landings with a keen eye.
SpaceX has made a name for itself landing rocket after rocket after rocket. Many of those boosters have come back to Earth and landed on droneships in the ocean — which is necessary for missions that go higher up into space, because it’s more difficult to land a booster on a specific patch of land when it has to return from a higher altitude.
“Getting a rocket back down from GTO is a much tougher feat. Not only are you more at risk of losing too much fuel before you can conduct a successful landing (which is what happened in the landing attempt this past June, but it’s simply tougher to bring the first-stage rockets back to one specific place after they’ve gone up that high…A droneship can maneuver around a certain set boundary to provide some flexibility for the rocket so that more fuel isn’t required for a back burn to navigate it over extraordinary distances.”
By presenting a droneship as part of its future plans for New Glenn, Blue Origin is basically further solidifying the perception of a rivalry between it and SpaceX — whether intentionally or not. Blue Origin claimed the mantle for the first booster landing, but it was SpaceX who succeeded in bringing a rocket back from orbital space — and then repeated the same feat later with a droneship landing.
It’s going to be interesting to see whether Blue Origin’s first droneship landing inspires another Twitter beef between Bezos and Elon Musk. Keep the popcorn handy in a few years.