That wonderful future of private sector rocketry we've all been dreaming of since our Heinleinian childhoods gets another successful step closer to fruition, as reported by Popular Science:
In an historic first, the private company founded by Amazon co-founder Jeff Bezos has become the first to land a reuseable rocket that's traveled to and from space.
On November 23, 2015, Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket launched 330,000 feet into the air. An unmanned crew capsule separated from the rocket on its way up, completing its own successful landing. Then the rocket grazed the lower reaches of space before returning to Earth and slowly touching down in a blaze of glory.
The company attempted a similar landing in April, but hydraulic problems prevented the rocket from achieving its vertical landing. Yesterday's achievement brings the industry closer to reusable–and hopefully cheaper–spaceflight.
Elon Musk's SpaceX has been trying, but so far failing, to pull off the same safe-landing part. Musk congratulated Bezos, but pointed out that what Musk is trying is a little more impressive, as New Shepard's max speed was Mach 3.72 compared to the SpaceX Falcon9 rocket's Mach 10, and:
While the New Shepard rocket is designed to reach sub-orbital space, SpaceX's Falcon 9 can get into orbital space–to deliver cargo shipments to the International Space Station, for instance– which it has done on several occasions. SpaceX also just last week received the second-in-history order from NASA for a private company to carry astronauts to the ISS in 2017 (the first was Boeing). New Shepard isn't quite there—yet.
Crewed flights aren't quite ready yet, but are the planned next step for Blue Origin after some research payloads planned for safe rocketing into space and return next year.
Rand Simberg wrote for Reason last year on Congressional attempts to legally slow down the rise of private space exploration.
A review by me in 2010 of a great Megan Prelinger book, Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race 1957-1962.