This is shaping up to be quite a week for Jeff Bezos, as the Amazon founder announced on Tuesday that his aerospace company Blue Origin successfully tested its new, hydrogen- and oxygen-fueled engine, designed to take a ship, crew and cargo into sub-orbit. The announcement came just two days after Bezos revealed that Amazon has been testing unmanned delivery drones.
In the test, the engine performed a full-mission duty cycle – thrusting at 110,000 pounds in a 145-second boost period, shutting down for about four and a half minutes to replicate a rocket coasting through its highest, sub-orbital point, then restarting and throttling down to 25,000 pounds of thrust to replicate a controlled vertical landing. So far, the Blue Origin engine has conducted more than 160 starts and 9,100 seconds of operation at the company’s test facility near Van Horn, Texas.
“Blue Origin has made steady progress since the start of our partnership under the first Commercial Crew Development round,” said Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of Commercial Spaceflight Development. “We’re thrilled to see another successful BE-3 engine test fire.”
“Working with NASA accelerated our BE-3 development by over a year in preparation for flight testing on our New Shepard suborbital system and ultimately on vehicles carrying humans to low-Earth orbit,” added Rob Meyerson, president and program manager of Blue Origin. “The BE-3 is a versatile, low-cost hydrogen engine applicable to NASA and commercial missions.”
The test is just the latest development in the decade-long Blue Origin project dubbed New Shepard. The launch system is being designed to send tourists and researchers to the edge of space, more than 62 miles above the Earth’s surface. The company plans to eventually develop a system capable of sending astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), slated for launch sometime after 2018.
“The BE-3 will gain extensive flight heritage on our New Shepard suborbital system prior to entering service on vehicles carrying humans to low-Earth orbit,” Meyerson said. “Given its high-performance, low cost, and reusability the BE-3 is well suited for boost, upper-stage and in-space applications on both government and commercial launch systems.”
The Bezos-founded company is currently vying with the California-based SpaceX, which was founded by PayPal creator Elon Musk, for the use of NASA’s Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The space agency has announced that it wants to pass the maintenance and operation of the historic launch pad to a commercial organization as quickly as possible, but Blue Origin has contested NASA’s current method for selecting its choice. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is expected to rule on Blue Origin’s appeal by December 12.
SpaceX has said it plans to use 39A for a range of commercial launches, including its current missions to resupply the ISS. On the other hand, Blue Orbit has talked about turning the pad into a multi-user launch facility.
“We believe we’ve submitted a proposal that provides the fullest commercial use of the facility,” Meyerson told NBCNews.com on Tuesday. “If the outcome is that our proposal is not selected, we have many other options, and we would look at those other options.”