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Jeff Bezos’ ship, named for his mom, will no longer be used to catch rockets

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Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, announced a year ago that he had purchased a ship to capture Blue Origin rockets after they returned from space, and he named the ship after his mother. Blue Origin spokesperson Linda Mills said the company is abandoning that plan in search of a more “cost-effective” alternative.

It is unclear what will become of Jacklyn, which Bezos dedicated to his mother in a small ceremony in Pensacola, Florida in December 2020. Blue Origin could still use the ship for something else or abandon the project entirely. Mills stated that the company is “still evaluating options.”

One alternative to the big ship is to opt for an autonomous, seafaring platform or barge, much like the drone ships that SpaceX uses to catch its rockets after the flight.

Blue Origin intended to sail the Jacklyn out into the Atlantic Ocean in order to retrieve its New Glenn rocket boosters. When the large first-stage booster, which provides the initial thrust at liftoff, detaches from the upper stage of the rocket and makes a controlled pinpoint landing on Earth, as SpaceX already does with its Falcon 9 rockets.

Blue Origin’s website still mentions landing its rockets on ships rather than barges, claiming that this allows the booster to land in turbulent ocean conditions. In theory, a massive ship could remain stable in rough waters, allowing Blue Origin to conduct booster retrieval operations in all weather conditions.

But that plan would have required the Jacklyn, a former cargo ship built in 2004, to undergo extensive retrofitting — including the installation of a massive platform for the rocket to target. Mills declined to say how much the refurbishments would have cost.

Landing rocket boosters rather than discarding them in the ocean, as other rocket companies have done for decades, is central to SpaceX and Blue Origin’s plans to reduce launch costs and ensure profitability.
Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket is set to be the first of the company’s rockets capable of reaching orbit, a journey that will require speeds of up to 17,000 miles per hour. Since 2008, SpaceX has launched rockets into orbit.

Blue Origin has only flown its much smaller New Shepard suborbital rocket so far. That rocket has been used to transport paying customers — including Bezos himself last summer — on brief, supersonic joy rides to the edge of what is technically considered space.

New Glenn is not expected to carry humans at first, but rather satellites and other cargo to orbit.

Despite being several years behind schedule, Blue Origin hopes to launch the first New Glenn into orbit by the end of 2022.

Despite never having flown, the New Glenn has already received several commercial satellite launch contracts, and NASA chose the rocket to compete for missions that would launch planetary, Earth observation, exploration, and scientific satellites.

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