An Engine 6 Years in the Making
SpaceX's well-known competitor in the private space industry, Blue Origin, is making strides in its effort to have private citizens breach the final frontier. While SpaceX prepares for its 2018 lunar mission, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos is confident his company will be able to send two astronauts to space by the end of 2017, with commercial flights following in 2018. He certainly does have a few good reasons for this confidence. In fact, soon, he'll have six.
After six long years of development, Blue Origin has finally unveiled one of its BE-4 rocket engines. The engine is expected to be used with five others just like it in structure and function to power the upcoming New Glenn rocket. Blue Origin has plans for two versions of these rockets, a 2-stage version and a 3-stage version. The New Glenn is expected to be 7 meters (23 feet) in diameter and range in length from 82 meters (270 feet) to 95 meters (313 feet).
A New Flight Plan
So where do the BE-4 engines come in? The first and second stages of the rocket will have boosters made up of the BE-4 engines, while the third stage will incorporate an older BE-3 engine.
The New Glenn is similar to its predecessor, the New Shepard, in that it will be a reusable space vehicle with a first stage that can return to the launch site standing upright after each flight. This style of rocket will save companies a huge sum of money on flights. A distinction between the New Glenn and the New Shepard is that the former will be equipped with enough power to carry heavy cargo payloads and astronauts into orbit around the Earth.
While the New Glenn has yet to be made, Blue Origin expects that it will be used to transport goods and people in space by the end of the decade. In the meantime, the BE-4 engine will undergo certification at Blue Origin's West Texas-based site.
Between the initiatives of private companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX and the missions of governments like the U.S. and China, humanity is launching into a new era of space flight. The BE-4 engines are one more step forward on that epic journey.