By Thomas Cullen
Tech & Innovation Editor
Space travel has not changed much since its inception in the 1950’s. It involved a rocket with various stages of propulsion that provide the necessary amount of thrust to exit the atmosphere. This method is currently the only feasible way to send objects, such as space ships and satellites, into space because the amount of energy that needs to be released in order to achieve the exit velocity of Earth’s gravity is extreme. The escape velocity, as it is called, that a space craft needs to reach in order to break the force exerted on it by Earth’s gravity is 25,000 miles per hour according to ExplainThatStuff.com. This is the speed that needs to be reached, but a more accurate explanation is that this is the kinetic energy required- represented in a measure of speed. The principal of burning a mixture of liquid hydrogen (propellant) and liquid oxygen (oxidizer) to create energy in the form of thrust has been generally the same since Robert Goddard received the patent for the technology in 1914.
Another important piece to this is the fact that there are various “stages” to a rocket- which are written into the original patent. This means that as fuel is expended during the flight, that section of the rocket will fall away and reenter Earth’s atmosphere.
This entire idea of how rocket design should be carried out is being disrupted by Jeff Bezos, who is in charge of Blue Origin, as well as Elon Musk, who is the CEO of Space X.
They are both in charge if companies that are leading the charge in developing technology that makes space travel more economic.
Space X was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, and its mission statement is to make space travel more feasible and less expensive so that human can travel throughout the solar system and inhabit different planets, as reported by Newsweek. They intend to make space travel more economic by using a reusable rocket that functions the same as other rockets, except for the fact that there are no stages to it. This means that the entire rocket would be fired into space, the payload would detach as the craft approached the edge of our atmosphere, and then the rocket would let gravity take it back to Earth. As it approached the landing site, rocket boosters (retro-rockets) would break the fall and allow the craft to slowly make contact with the ground. Their craft that is designed to accomplish this goal is called the Falcon 9, and its first flight was in 2010 in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Despite this initial success, there have been various attempts throughout 2015 to try and land the rocket upright after its flight- with mixed results.
Falcon 9 was only able to achieve one successful vertical landing, but as of now, Blue Origin has been able to land their Blue Shepard craft vertically for the second time. Blue Shepard functions on the same principal of attempting to land the launch vehicle vertically once it approaches Earth again. The Verge continues by saying that the missions of Falcon 9 and Blue Shepard cannot be compared because Falcon 9 travels much higher with the goal of sending payloads into space, while Blue Shepard releases its payload into suborbital space- with the intent of it also falling back down to Earth. However, Jeff Bezos said that there are plans to make larger rockets so that they can launch a vehicle into outer space. The competition between these two companies is adding some much needed life into the area of American space technology.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, January 26th print edition.
Contact Thomas at