Blue Origin unveils new engines and spacecraft

The first completed BE-4 engine. Image courtesy of Blue Origin.
The first completed BE-4 engine. Image courtesy of Blue Origin.

US private spaceflight company Blue Origin has this week unveiled new information about its new and larger rocketry plans.

Most concretely, the company showed-off images on Twitter for the first time of a completed BE-4 rocket engine.

This new engine burns methane and oxygen (methalox) as the propellant, making it considerable more advanced than current rocket engines on the market.

Providing 5500kN of thrust, the BE-4 engine was designed from the ground up for reusability, and thus should be able to provide considerable cost savings when this is realized.

Once it enters mass production, the BE-4 will be used not just in Blue Origin’s rockets but also in ULA’s forthcoming Vulcan rocket.

New Glenn rocket

Blue Origin also followed up this unveiling with new information on its larger New Glenn orbital heavy-lift rocket.

This rocket, which will be one of the largest in the world once complete, is designed as an upsizing of Blue Origin’s existing New Shepard suborbital rocket which it plans to use for space tourism.

In a promotional video, the company demonstrated the way in which their rocket would launch large payloads into orbit.

Similar to competitor SpaceX, the first stage of the New Glenn would propulsively return to Earth and eventually complete a vertical landing upon a modified oil tanker.

Both companies are betting that by reusing the vast majority of the spacecraft cost, they can revolutionize the space-launch industry through lower costs.

According to Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos, the New Glenn will have a total refurbishment cost of only $10,000.

The company also announced that they had already begun signing up customers for this launch vehicle, with Eutelsat and OneWeb added to the launch manifest.

Separately Blue Origin also teased plans to begin sending autonomous cargo missions to the moon in 2020 with the aim to begin construction of a future moon base.

This announcement comes at a time of renewed interest in Lunar exploration following plans announced by SpaceX, Nasa, and China’s space program.