Blue Origin, the private spaceflight company founded by Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, is making progress towards orbital launches. Earlier this month, the company successfully fired the thrust chamber assembly for its new 100,000 pound thrust BE-3 liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen rocket engine.
Earlier this month on the E-1 test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, Blue Origin engineers successfully fired the BE-3 engine’s thrust chamber to full power. “We are very excited to have demonstrated a new class of high-performance hydrogen engines,” said Rob Meyerson, president and program manager of Blue Origin, of the test. “Access to the Stennis test facility and its talented operations team was instrumental in conducting full-power testing of this new thrust chamber.”
The BE-3 engines are part of Blue Origin’s Reusable Booster System, the system that will eventually power the reusable boosters that will take the company’s biconic-shaped Space Vehicle into orbit. And the engine thrust chamber test is a step towards a successful system.
Blue Origin is one of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP) partners. The BE-3 engine thrust chamber test was part of the company’s Space Act Agreement with NASA under the second round of the Commercial Crew Development program. Known as CCDev2, the program funds private companies’ spacecraft and launch vehicle development with the goal of creating a strong U.S. commercial space sector. Eventually, these vehicle will have a transportation capability that the government (like NASA) and private companies (like those seeking to launch communications satellites) can buy. It will, in the long run, make space much more accessible.
The engine thrust chamber test is a step towards a successful system. “Blue Origin continues to be extremely innovative as it develops a crew-capable vehicle for suborbital and orbital flights,” said Ed Mango, manager of NASA’s CCP program. “We’re thrilled the company’s engine test fire was met with success.”
The BE-3 test is, of course, just one of many milestones Blue Origin will meet under NASA’s CCDev2 program. The company will receive up to $3.7 million towards the development of a composite crew test module and a launch escape system for its commercial spaceflight vehicle. This includes the Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard system, a rocket-propelled vehicle that consists of a pressurized Crew Capsule on top of a Propulsion Module. It’s designed to make suborbital flights frequently and at competitive prices available to astronauts, researchers hoping to run experiments in microgravity environments, and regular citizens eager for a glimpse of the Earth from space. New Shepard will launch from Blue Origin’s own launch site in West Texas.
As per its CCDev2 contract, Blue Origin has already completed a system requirements review of its spacecraft. Using results from more than 100 wind tunnel tests of the vehicle’s aerodynamic design, stability during flight, and cross-range maneuverability, engineers and technical experts from NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, and Blue Origin assessed the spacecraft’s ability to meet safety and mission requirements to low-Earth orbit.
Blue Origin, like All of NASA’s industry partners, has consistently met its milestone tests. We’re getting closer to a future with easier access to space in our own backyard.