Another player in the growing new Space Race is Blue Origin, founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Blue Origin is one of Space X’s biggest rivals, and both are well-known along Florida’s Space Coast. Blue Origin is often secretive in comparison to its rivals, except for its New Shepard rocket system, and the 2016 announcement of the Blue Origin New Glenn rocket system.
New Shepard, the tourist rocket, once again, was launched from the Blue Origin facility in West Texas and landed successfully. This test flight came after a quiet year for Blue Origin, after the company became the first to land a rocket vertically after launch. The latest launch, in December of 2017, was a successful flight for the New Shepard Crew Capsule, a version closer to the rocket which will eventually carry people into space. The Crew Capsule featured windows, plus experimental payloads, and Mannequin Skywalker, a dummy passenger. All of this means, Blue Origin is step closer to carrying passengers into space, which is the goal for 2019, and will come after successful flights with test pilots.
Blue Origin remains secretive about New Shepard’s flights, thought the project is well-known. The plan is for New Shepherd to give passengers a short space flight experience. The passengers will purchase tickets for the rocket ride inside the crew capsule which will reach an altitude of 62 miles plus. The capsule and rocket will then separate, the crew capsule landing gently with parachutes and the rocket lands via the aid of its engine.
As New Shepard quietly strides toward its goal, Blue Origin continues to make news headlines with the New Glenn, a massive, orbit-capable, reusable rocket system which will carry payloads and even people into orbit. New Glenn will be powered by BE-4s, reusable engines which conducted its first full scale test in October 2017. New Glenn will rise to over 300 feet tall and feature two versions. A two-stage rocket phase will be utilized for satellite delivery, while a three-stage launcher will be used for deep space travel. If all goes as planned, Bezos hopes the New Glenn rocket system will make travel to space, including the moon and even Mars, a common occurrence.
The plan for New Glenn’s debut is scheduled for 2020, and Blue Origin is currently working on its creation in a massive hangar on the Space Coast (Cape Canaveral to be exact). Concurrently, Blue Origin is building the New Glenn launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where it will eventually launch from Launch Complex 36.
In 2017, Blue Origin joined SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and Orbital ATK in submitting a proposal for U.S. Air Force funding of new orbital class rocket development. For Blue Origin, this is the first attempt to enter the military market.
The Air Force is expected to award a minimum of three of the companies a block of funding from the government through Launch Services Agreements as early as Summer 2018. The companies selected will have supply their own funding, in the millions of dollars, from their own funds. This funding block will be followed in 2019 by the Air Force selection of two companies who will proceed to the final phase and provide launch access for military payloads. The Air Force then gains two certified providers assuring the U.S. Military access for crucial missions including reconnaissance, navigation, communication, and early warning systems.
SpaceX and ULA currently hold the certification for these military missions. The new round of agreements could put Blue Origin in the running as the military transitions from rocket propulsion to launchers as the two-state New Glenn configuration meets all the Air Force’s requirements for launch (payload mass, orbit range).