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July 29, 2021

New rocket employs reusable technology

By SABRINA CHEN | April 14, 2016

Billionaire Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, is in the process of launching his newest project: low-cost spaceflight. Bezos has built his rocket company Blue Origin around finding a better and cheaper method of space travel. In doing so, Bezos planned to develop a new technology to move past chemical rockets, primarily focusing on reusable parts and fuel.

“Reusability will change everything,” Bezos said in a press release. “Right now, the things you do in space have to be incredibly important and because space access is so expensive, if you can do it another way, you will. That’s why you get very few launches. That changes if you can dramatically lower the cost of access, and the only way to do that is reusability.”

This past Saturday, Blue Origin launched one of its rockets for the third time, demonstrating its ability to safely launch and land an unmanned reusable rocket.

“Flawless BE-3 restart and perfect booster landing,” Bezos wrote on Twitter. “CC chutes deployed.”

The rocket was built by a student team at the University of Central Florida (UCF) as a microgravity experiment. The objective of the experiment was to use microgravity in the first minutes of a rocket’s flight in order to set a rocket into motion and keep it in orbit.

“We have been waiting for this day for a long time,” UCF physics professor Josh Colwell, who was at the launch site, said. “A lot of talented students have helped make this happen. I’m just thrilled that we’re going to get data back immediately after flight and get a look at the strange behavior of dust in a microgravity space environment.”

Bezos added that with rockets, the price largely results from the hardware that is used to build rocket parts, not the fuel. This is because liquid oxygen costs only around 10 cents per pound and constitutes under 10 percent of a rocket’s launch costs.

Despite Bezos’s interest in reusable rockets, many people are skeptical about the developing technology. NASA in particular has said it is focusing on deep space exploration instead of expending resources on low-Earth, reusable rocket orbits.

“I think it’s partly because a lot of people still perceive it as a very risky approach,” Bezos said. “I think it’s good that the private enterprise is stepping in, and I think we’re going to see the rewards of that in the next 10 to 15 years.”

Others have argued that it may be unsafe to reuse rocket parts. However, Bezos disagreed, noting that he would feel more safe riding in a rocket that has been launched before riding on a rocket’s first flight.

“Look, the fact that you just flew it yesterday means that it’s probably really good to fly right now. And that’s going to be true of rocket vehicles, too,” Bezos said. “In the future, because of reusability, nobody with a really expensive satellite is going to want to put it on an unused rocket. They’re going to decide that’s too risky. Now that will take a while, but that’s what’s going to happen.”

One of Blue Origin’s competitors is entrepreneur Elon Musk’s company SpaceX. SpaceX has received more publicity in the past decade and has even been involved in the satellite business and in NASA contracts. Like Bezos, Musk has expressed interest in the idea of a reusable rocket. However, Bezos’s company was the first to display the ability to fly a rocket in a matter of weeks.

According to Bezos, he hopes to eventually be able to send more people into space as “space tourists.” Bezos does not know when these commercial flights may be available, or how much tickets will cost. Bezos said that he ultimately hopes to lower costs of spaceflight, making it available to not only astronauts, but also to the average person.

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