Blue Origin makes progress. In suborbital space systems as yet

Blue Origin completes acceptance testing of liquid oxygen - liquid hydrogen BE-3 engine for New Shepard suborbital flight. According to ​Rob Meyerson, President of Blue Origin, the company plans to begin flight tests of its reusable suborbital New Shepard vehicle later this year from its West Texas facility.

BE-3 rocket engine test. Credit: Blue Origin
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A rocket company of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin announced completion of 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 50-ton-thrust BE‑3 will power Blue Origin's New Shepard suborbital system, and later, will be modified for applications in upper stages of an orbital system (so-called BE-3U configuration).

The BE‑3 can be continuously throttled between 50-ton and 9-ton thrust, a key capability for vertical takeoff and vertical landing (VTVL) vehicles. The testing profile included multiple mission duty cycles, deep throttling and off-nominal test points.

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Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin's Goddard test vehicle
"The BE‑3 has now been fired for more than 30,000 seconds over the course of 450 tests. 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.” Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin

New Shepard is a suborbital vehicle capable of carrying up to 3 astronauts and various scientific payloads. The booster stage takes off and lands vertically, and the New Shepard crew capsule itself lands under parachutes. The capsule can be flown autonomously, and the company is going to fly the vehicle dozens of times before putting test pilots aboard, Parabolic Arc informs.

Blue Origin hopes to get dozens, if not hundreds flights out of each New Shepard vehicle on a commercial basis, allowing people to experience space travel. The company's plan is to use suborbital flights as a test bed for an orbital crewed system. New Shepard passengers will have about four minutes of weightlessness on a suborbital flight that will last less than 15 minutes, Rob Meyerson said. He added that Blue Origin is still several years away from selling tickets for New Shepard suborbital flights.

Photos of one of New Shepard test flight, conducted in 2012, via Space.com.

The BE‑3 engine for New Shepard is the third generation of Blue Origin-developed engines. The fourth-generation BE‑4 uses liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas to produce 250-ton thrust at sea level. Under development since 2012, it was selected by United Launch Alliance (ULA) to serve as the primary propulsion provider for its Next Generation Launch System that will eventually replace Atlas V and Delta rockets.

Rob Meyerson told BE-4 engine would begin full-scale tests in 2016, with plans to compete them the following year. By now the company has been conducting sub-scale BE-4 tests involving engine's fuel injector and power pack. For future orbital operations, Blue Origin has been looking at potential locations in several states, including Florida. The company also has continued a commercial crew agreement with NASA on an unfunded basis.

Next Generation Launch System is a temporary name. ULA held an online voting to choose name for its new rocket, with 5 candidates - Zeus, Vulcan, GalaxyOne, Freedom and Eagle. Tory Bruno, CEO of ULA, promised to unveil results of the voting at the National Space Symposium that will take place in Colorado-Springs on April 13-16. It was reported that he also would unveil details of the rocket and rocket engines partnership with Blue Origin.

Jeff Bezos (right) and Tory Bruno (left) announcing BE-4 engine partnership
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Development schedule of BE-4, according to Rob Meyerson, will be completed 'two to three years ahead of any alternative engine out there'. He did not name those alternatives, but Aerojet Rocketdyne is working on a large engine called AR-1 that uses kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants that, like the BE-4, has been proposed as a replacement for the Russian-manufactured RD-180 on ULA's Atlas V vehicle. Meyerson also claimed that, despite the company's secretive reputation, recently it was more open about its activities.

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Blue Origin logo

It is known that Blue Origin was founded in September 2000 by Jeff Bezos, who has invested in it over $500 million of his money since then. The company's motto is 'Gradatim Ferociter', Latin for 'Step-by-Step, Ferociously'. The company is headquartered in Kent, a suburb of Seattle. It has developed and tested three types of flight test vehicles, Charon, Goddard, and New Shepard, as well as several versions of rocket engines. In 2013 Jeff Bezos financed an unprecedented operation on the recovery from the Atlantic Ocean of two huge Apollo/Saturn-V F-1 engines after more than 40 years spent lost at sea.

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