After months of speculation, Blue Origin finally released more details about its New Glenn rocket on Tuesday. The 82-meter rocket has the capacity to lift 45 tons to low Earth orbit and an impressive 13 tons to geostationary orbit. According to company founder Jeff Bezos, the two-stage rocket should be ready for its maiden flight by the end of 2019.
New Glenn, named after the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth, John Glenn, will also have a fully reusable first stage. In addition to comments from Bezos at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington, Blue Origin released a video showing the rocket’s return to Earth. It will use aerodynamic gaits to maneuver during reentry and will land on a barge. It is designed for reuse up to 100 times. The rocket’s reentry resembles that of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, but New Glenn is a larger and significantly more powerful booster.
In fact, if it flew today, New Glenn would be the most powerful rocket on Earth. However, there are also other large boosters in development that are likely to fly first. SpaceX is building the Falcon Heavy, which can lift 53 tons into low Earth orbit, and NASA is developing the Space Launch System with a capacity of 70 tons.
Today’s announcement therefore marks the beginning of a golden era of heavy-lift booster development. In the coming years, these three missiles will compete on performance, price and reliability. In addition to large satellite launches, they will also potentially power NASA’s deep space exploration plans, including lunar exploration, and possibly missions to Mars. Both Blue Origin and SpaceX expect much lower operating costs than the government rocket, and both will pursue reusability. But as always in the rocket industry, it’s one thing to show a video depicting a future launch. It’s another thing to reach the launch pad, fly it and use it again.
Speaking on Tuesday, Bezos expressed confidence in the prospects for New Glenn, saying the company has learned important lessons from the development of its New Shepard rocket and spacecraft, which has already demonstrated that it is cheaply reusable and can be used as soon as possible. may begin suborbital tourist flights. as next year. “This is what allows us to build an orbital vehicle,” he said. “The orbital vehicle is 100 percent informed by all the lessons we’ve learned over the course of the New Shepard program, so it’s very directly relevant.”
Some critics have hated Blue Origin for its initial focus on space tourism, saying the company doesn’t really take space exploration seriously. But such criticism is misplaced, Bezos said, pointing out that entertainment has historically been a driver of major innovation. “There are historical cases where entertainment turns out to be a driver of technologies that then become very practical and usable for other things,” he said, citing aviation’s early use for barnstorming, and GPUs originally developed for PC gaming and now used in machines. learning.
Whatever one thinks of New Shepard and its short suborbital jumps, there can be little doubt that New Glenn is a serious rocket. The booster also already has a customer: Eutelsat has signed a contract with Blue Origin for a geostationary satellite launch. In addition, New Glenn is also, as Bezos reiterated on Tuesday, “the smallest orbital rocket Blue Origin will ever build.” There will be even bigger boosters in the future, such as the previously teased New Armstrong missile. The tech tycoon recently said lunar exploration is the next logical step for human activity in space.
List image from Blue Origin