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New Shepard launch
Blue Origin’s New Shepard prototype spaceship lifts off from its West Texas launch pad during a test flight in April. (Blue Origin photo)

Even as Jeff Bezos celebrates past achievements in spaceflight, he’s looking forward to seeing his Blue Origin space venture make future achievements.

The next flight test of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship should come “very soon,” Bezos said today at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, after a ceremony marking the arrival of historic Saturn V rocket engine parts that his Bezos Expeditions team recovered from the Atlantic two years ago.

“We’re ready and excited to fly again,” Bezos said.

Bezos is best-known as the billionaire founder of Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, but for more than a decade, he’s also been funding Blue Origin’s quest to develop lower-cost vehicles for suborbital and orbital flight. The company is headquartered in Kent, Wash., and currently has more than 400 employees, Bezos said.

Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon as well as Blue Origin, talks about the past and future of spaceflight at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. (GeekWire photo by Alan Boyle)

New Shepard’s most recent flight test was conducted from Bezos’ West Texas launch range in April. That flight sent an autonomously controlled capsule up to a height of 307,000 feet – which is close to 328,000 feet (100 kilometers, or 62 miles), the internationally accepted boundary of outer space. The unoccupied crew module parachuted to the ground as planned, but a hydraulic problem led to the loss of the craft’s rocket-powered propulsion module after separation.

Bezos didn’t specify the timing of the next test flight, other than to say he hoped it happened soon – but other statements from Blue Origin suggest the test could come before the end of the year.

The aim for the next flight will be to recover both of New Shepard’s modules, which is in line with Blue Origin’s vision for reusable launch vehicles. Bezos referred to the concept of rocket reusability in his comments about the decades-old F-1 engines that he and his team brought up from the Atlantic’s depths.

“That first stage is gigantic, it’s expendable. It’s supposed to crash into the ocean,” Bezos pointed out. “That was the whole plan. We’re working, by the way, on changing that plan. … We’re trying to make reusable rockets because we don’t like throwing the hardware away. We like to reuse it.”

Blue Origin’s spaceships will make use of next-generation rocket engines known as the BE-3 (which is fueled by liquid hydrogen) and the BE-4 (which will be powered by liquefied natural gas). The BE-4 engine is also due to be used on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket.

“The BE-4 is a 21st-century engine,” Bezos told GeekWire. ‘We have tools today that [Wernher] Von Braun and all the 1960s rocket designers couldn’t even have dreamed of, in terms of computer simulation. … If Von Braun were to come today and look at the tools that we would have, he would be so excited and happy.”

Bezos said he had no problem juggling his time between Amazon, a publicly traded company; and Blue Origin, which is privately funded. “They’re very, very different, and they feed different parts of me,” he said. “The bulk of my time is spent at Amazon, but I get energy from both.”

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