Blue Origin, the much-more-secretive version of SpaceX, launched their “New Shepard” spacecraft for the first time in west Texas yesterday. The launch vehicle, sure to be popular with sixth-graders everywhere, featured a large booster stage and a dummy capsule; after boosting to an apogee of 58 miles, the capsule was successfully recovered via parachutes. The booster was intended for a vertical recovery a la the Falcon 9R, but that was *not* a success. Given the amount of effort SpaceX has put into booster recovery, a recovery failure first time out of the gate for Blue Origin is not unexpected. but unlike SpaceX, booster recovery is *not* a nice bonus at the end of the flight; they’ll really have to make this reliable, or otherwise their costs will be prohibitive.
A long way to go yet, but three cheers for progress in developing another manned spacecraft. The New Shepard is *not* a direct competitor against the Falcon 9/Dragon for the simple reason that this vehicle is intended to be a suborbital tourist vehicle, not an orbital transport.