Dec 24 2015

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My return stage is bigger than yours

Regarding the pissing match between Jeff Bezos (Blue Origin) and Elon Musk (SpaceX), I think they’re both being ridiculous. Both the New Shepherd’s landing and the Falcon 9 first stage landing were impressive, and both advance their respective company’s business case, and neither business case is in direct competition with each other.

New Shepherd is a single-stage sub-orbital rocket focused on the sub-orbital tourist and science markets. Falcon 9 is a two-stage orbital and deep space launcher focused on the satellite and human/cargo to orbital stations markets.

Blue Origin was first to send its rocket to space and return it safely to Earth. That in and of itself is a historic occasion. Even though SpaceX’s landing was more technologically difficult (As I noted here), Blue Origin was and always will be first. This rivalry was started by Musk, and from a PR standpoint it has been a good thing because it has kept both SpaceX and Blue Origin in the news, but it is a contrived rivalry instead of a real one. The only real rivalry here is that two cutting-edge launch companies are racing toward historical milestones and both naturally want to get there first.

So…how much more difficult was SpaceX’s recovery profile? Popular Mechanics has a good graph that illustrates the difference well:

and then the size difference between the return stages (bigger = more difficult to control because of more surface area):

So yes, SpaceX’s return was more difficult (if second in time).

The real winner here, of course, is all of us. We are all much closer to taking a hop up to sub-orbital space or an extended stay in orbit because both Blue Origin and SpaceX have proven that rocket reuse is a potential option in both cases.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/12/24/my-return-stage-is-bigger-than-yours/

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