Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin released a fact sheet about its programs when it opened its new Huntsville manufacturing facility on Monday. Below is an excerpt on the company’s New Glenn rocket and its BE-3, BE-4 and BE-7 engine development program.
BLUE ORIGIN FACT SHEET
Named after John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit Earth, New Glenn is a single configuration, heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle capable of carrying people and payloads routinely to low Earth orbit, geostationary transfer orbit, cislunar and beyond. Its first stage is fully reusable and built for 25 missions initially.
New Glenn is currently being built in Blue’s state-of-the-art rocket factory in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It will launch from historic Launch Complex LC-36, which Blue is rebuilding from the ground up and includes the integration facility, refurbishment, fuel, environmental control center, and launch pad.
New Glenn was developed from the beginning to be human capable. The technology and operations developed for New Shepard are being applied directly to New Glenn. For example, a variant of the BE-3 engine that powers New Shepard will be used to power New Glenn’s upper stage – making it the most understood upper stage on the market when it flies in late 2021.
To date, Blue Origin has invested an unprecedented $2.5 billion into the development of New Glenn and its facilities. New Glenn is the only vehicle that can serve the needs of all national security/DOD, civil and commercial missions with one configuration.
The vehicle is gaining market interest with several commercial customers, and Blue was awarded a contract for $500 million from the United States Air Force for developing capabilities to serve national security missions.
- System Critical Design Review (CDR) complete in 2019
- Construction on launch complex 36 has gone vertical
- Tanks currently in production
- Launch agreements with three of the six largest satellite operators in the world
- Launch Platform Vehicle (LPV) purchased and currently in refurbishment in Port Pensacola, FL
- Reusability: Designed for operational reusability from the beginning, New Glenn is powered by seven of Blue’s BE-4 engines, the world’s most powerful liquid oxygen/liquefied natural gas engine. Together, the seven engines generate up to 3.85 million pounds of thrust, or roughly half the size of Saturn V’s thrust.
- Payload Capability: New Glenn will launch payloads over 13 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit and 45 metric tons to low Earth orbit. The vehicle has the capability to launch to cislunar. New Glenn is capable of fulfilling the needs of all commercial, civil and national security missions with one configuration.
- Build: New Glenn’s 7-meter fairing has two times the payload volume of any 5-meter class commercial launch system. The vehicle is also able to launch and land in 95% of weather conditions.
- First customers: Eutelsat, Sky Perfect JSAT, Telesat, United States Air Force.
Blue Origin Engines
Operationally reusable launch vehicles demand high performance engines capable of a multitude of missions and deep throttling for soft landings. Blue Origin’s family of engines—BE-3PM, BE-3U, BE-4 and BE-7—are powering the next generation of launch vehicles for commercial, civil, national security and human spaceflight.
Blue’s engines are designed, developed and manufactured at Blue’s headquarters in Kent, Washington presently, while Blue builds a world-class, high-rate engine production facility in Huntsville, Alabama, for the BE-4 and BE-3U.
The BE-3PM is currently in service with New Shepard, while the BE-4, BE-3U and BE-7 are all in development and actively testing. The BE-4 engine will power two next generation American launch vehicles—assuring U.S. access to space for decades to come.
- BE-3PM: The engine has 11 flights with a standard engine on time of over 170 seconds per flight for a total of over 1,800 seconds of flight time.
- BE-3U: The Thrust Chamber Demonstrator has completed over 2,100 seconds of test.
- BE-4: Achieved full power in 2019 and qualifying the engine late 2020. Delivery of engines to ULA support Vulcan’s development activities and planned first launch in 2021.
- BE-7: The lunar landing engine started hotfiring in 2019 and is currently in test at NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center in partnership with NASA. In total, BE-7 has accrued more than 13 minutes of total test time (more than 780 seconds) on multiple test articles with the most for any single test article being up to 3-minutes of continuous test time.
- Test Stand 4670 at NASA Marshall in Huntsville, AL: Refurbishment on the historic test stand has begun.
- BE-4: The first large oxygen-rich staged combustion engine made in the U.S. will power two vehicles in the next generation of American orbital rockets (Blue’s New Glenn and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan). BE-4 is the most powerful liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueled rocket engine ever developed. Using an oxygen-rich staged combustion cycle, BE-4 is capable of producing 2,400 kN (550,000 lbf) thrust with deep throttle capability.
- BE-3PM: This engine has completed 11 successful flights to space with New Shepard. BE-3PM is designed for operational reusability with minimal maintenance between flights and uses high performing liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. At full throttle, BE-3PM generates 490 kN (110,000 lbf) thrust at sea level (over a million horsepower). When returning to Earth, it uniquely throttles down to 90 kN (20,000 lbf), enabling a controlled and gentle vertical landing on the pad.
- BE-3U Upper Stage Variant: A variant of BE-3PM, BE-3U is optimized to operate in the vacuum of space. Two BE-3U engines power New Glenn’s restartable upper stage, enabling the full range of customer missions including direct injection to geostationary orbit. BE-3U generates 710 kN (160,000 lbf) thrust in vacuum. When the BE-3U first flies on New Glenn in 2021, it will be the most understood upper stage engine on the market.
- BE-7: In development for several years, the BE-7 is a highly efficient, deep-throttling engine with restart capability that can power in-space systems, including our Blue Moon lunar lander. The highly throttleable BE-7 has a thrust of 40 kN (10,000 lbf), which enables large lunar payload transport.
The engine’s propellants are a highly efficient combination of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, which can be found in abundance in the water ice on the lunar surface. Blue has hot fired the BE-7 lunar landing engine multiple times at Marshall Space Flight Center. The engine is offered to other companies for their in-space applications.
In December 2019, Blue signed a 15-year cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for testing of Blue Origin’s BE-7 engine at the Edwards Air Force Base in California. Blue will provide capital improvements to the facility where engine testing will occur.