For space fans, this is rapidly turning into a rather exciting century. Blue Origin, the company run by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, has announced plans to build a massive new rocket that will take people and cargo to Earth orbit and beyond. And they also hinted at something even bigger and better in the future.
The rocket is named New Glenn, after John Glenn, who became the first American astronaut to orbit Earth in 1962. If you’ve been keeping up with Blue Origin, you’ll note that their previous rocket was also named after an American spaceflight pioneer; New Shepard was named after Alan Shepard, who in 1961 became the first American to go to space.
This new rocket is Blue Origin’s endeavor to seriously enter the orbital launch business. Their New Shepard rocket, a relatively meager 15 meters (50 feet) tall, has only been used for short hops into space, and will likely just take paying customers on quick jaunts in the near future. The much larger New Glenn, on the other hand, will make Blue Origin a serious player in the rocket market.
There will be two versions of the rocket, used to take both satellites and people to space. A two-stage variant of the rocket, that is with two sections, will measure 82 meters (270 feet) tall and will be used for missions to low-Earth orbit (LEO). A three-stage version measuring 95 meters (313 feet) tall is also in development, for missions beyond LEO – perhaps the Moon and Mars. Both will use the company’s BE-4 engine, and the first stage of both will land back on the ground and be reusable, building on the test flights of New Shepard.
New Shepard has launched and landed successfully four times to date. Blue Origin
In terms of height, these rockets will be the tallest in operation (aside from NASA's Space Launch System, if it's built), and second in history only to the Saturn V. In terms of power, they’ll have about 3.85 million pounds of thrust at liftoff, which is more than the most powerful rocket currently in operation, the Delta IV Heavy (2.1 million pounds), but less than SpaceX’s upcoming Falcon Heavy (5.1 million pounds).
Nonetheless, it’s an important announcement for Blue Origin, a company that for so long was shrouded in secrecy but now is ready to show its hand to the world. Bezos was not quite ready to announce a first launch date, though, or show any images of the rocket’s development, but he did say in an email it would fly “before the end of this decade” from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral in Florida.
And, at the end of the announcement, he hinted at something even more impressive on the horizon. “Up next on our drawing board: New Armstrong,” he said. “But that’s a story for the future.”