Blue Origin Wants To Go Orbital

SpaceX may seem to get the biggest share of attention given to private space companies, it does have competitors.  Blue Origin shares more than a few similarities.  Both businesses are owned by men who made their fortunes in other technology companies (Jeff Bezos of Amazon is behind Blue Origin, and Elon Musk of Tesla runs SpaceX), and both businesses aim to grow through the development and refinement of reusable boosters.  Through this technology they would dramatically reduce the cost of getting things to orbit.

But a major difference – that Blue Origin has focused on sub-orbital flight and SpaceX on orbital missions, is about to go away.  Blue Origin has announced a new rocket in its family, the New Glenn.  Those conversant in space history will note the parallels with the first American astronauts.  Alan Shepard was the first American to achieve suborbital flight, and his name inspires the New Shepard booster that has been the key to Blue Origin’s success to date.  The New Glenn is named for John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.

The New Glenn is massive, and has two and three stage configurations that would be capable of lifting heavy payloads and/or crew capsules into orbit.  It would compete with SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which is a larger version of the Falcon9 booster it has used to great success so far.

(Such success, is, of course, not without failure.  This is space, where risk is a part of the business.)

Both the New Glenn and its new engines have to complete testing before the booster would enter service.  However, the engines could be ready by next year, and the full booster might compete for launch business around the same time SpaceX flights are trying to get to Mars.  Having a competitor on one’s shoulder could make both companies strive for achievements faster than either on their own.  It would be nice to see.


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