Billionaires’ space race hits light speed as Bezos’ rocket prepares for lift-off

8 Apr 2015

As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ top-secret Blue Origin spacecraft gets ready to go into space, it will up the ante in the battle for space domination against Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Unmanned test flights of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ top-secret space company Blue Origin’s spacecraft are set to begin after successful tests of rocket engines.

Blue Origin recently completed acceptance testing of its BE-3 rocket engine, the first new hydrogen engine to be developed in the US in more than a decade.

The New Shepard is capable of carrying three or more astronauts. It’s BE-3 rocket engine is capable of vertical takeoff and vertical landing.

The BE-3 can be continuously throttled between 110,000-lbf and 20,000-lbf thrust, a key capability for vertical takeoff and vertical landing vehicles. The testing profile included multiple mission duty cycles, deep throttling and off-nominal test points.

Next generation space flight

“The BE-3 has now been fired for more than 30,000 seconds over the course of 450 tests,” said Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin founder.

“We test, learn, refine and then test again to push our engines. The Blue Origin team did an outstanding job exploring the corners of what the BE-3 can do and soon we’ll put it to the ultimate test of flight.”

The BE-3 is the third generation of Blue Origin-developed engines. The fourth-generation BE-4 uses liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas (LNG) to produce 550,000-lbf thrust at sea level. 

Under development since 2012, the BE-4 provides the lowest cost and fastest production path to power the nation’s access to space. Selected by United Launch Alliance to serve as the primary propulsion provider for its Next Generation Launch System, Blue Origin is developing the BE-4 as an integrated part of America’s newest launch vehicle.

The BE-3 engine was designed and fabricated at Blue Origin’s design, development and production facility in Kent, Washington. Full-engine testing was conducted at the company’s facilities in west Texas, while earlier combustion chamber testing was completed at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.

“Liquid hydrogen is challenging, deep throttling is challenging and reusability is challenging,” said Bezos.

“This engine has all three. The rewards are highest performance, vertical landing even with a single-engine vehicle and low cost. And, as a future upper stage engine, hydrogen greatly increases payload capabilities.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years