Blue Origin Breaks Ground on Huntsville Engine Factory

Blue Origin groundbreaking. Pictured left to right: Greg Canfield, Alabama Secretary of Commerce; Kim Lewis, Huntsville/Madison County Chamber 2019 Board Chair; Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle; Alabama Governor Kay Ivey; United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno; Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith; Madison County Commission Chairman Dale Strong; U.S. Senator Doug Jones; U.S. Congressman Mo Brooks; Clayco CEO Bob Clark. (Credit: Blue Origin)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala., January 25, 2019 (Blue Origin PR) — Today we broke ground on the construction of a world-class rocket engine production facility in Huntsville, Alabama, extending the city’s rich legacy in liquid rocket engines.

Here are excerpts from today’s groundbreaking ceremony given by Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith:

It’s a great day here in Rocket City. Thanks to the votes of confidence from United Launch Alliance, from the Air Force for national security missions, and from Huntsville and the state of Alabama, we are breaking ground on a facility to produce our world-class engines and power the next generation of spaceflight.

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New Shepard Flights Set to Resume Soon

Mannequin Skywalker — an instrumented test dummy — flew aboard the New Shepard capsule. (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith says the next New Shepard flight will occur soon, Space News reports.

The next New Shepard test flight should take place soon. “Hopefully in the next few weeks,” Smith said.

Blue Origin has been making updates to the vehicle, he said, intended primarily to improve operability rather than performance or reliability. Those upgrades took longer than expected, he said, hence the four-month gap since the last test flight.

Once the test flights resume, Smith said the company planned several flights to verify the vehicle’s performance before putting people on board. “What we want to do is get a series of flights, test out the incorporation of some of the changes that we’ve made, and then make sure we’ve got a stable configuration that we can repeat several times before we get to first human flight,” he said. That first crewed flight, he said, is expected by the end of the year.

Blue Origin Continues Qualification Testing of BE-4 Engine

BE-4 engines (Credit: Blue Origin)

Space News has an update on Blue Origin’s development of its BE-4 engine.

The chief executive of Blue Origin says he expects the company’s BE-4 engine to complete qualification testing by the end of the year as the company ramps up work on its New Glenn orbital rocket.

In an April 19 interview during the 34th Space Symposium here, Bob Smith said testing of the BE-4 engine, which uses methane and liquid oxygen propellants, was going well as the company stepped through a methodical process of increased durations and thrust levels.

“We continue to progress along the lines of changing the power levels and going from various throttle settings,” he said. That includes, he said, a test the company announced in March when the engine fired for 114 seconds at 65 percent of rated power. That duration is about half a typical mission duty cycle for the engine.

“We continue to roll through our test program and hope to qualify that engine by the end of the year,” he said. “We’re walking our way through that just to make sure we understand and characterize the engine fully.”