Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos today put a spotlight on the construction of a giant rocket production facility in Florida for his Blue Origin space venture – but he also gave a shout-out to the engine production team back in Kent, Wash.
In an email to Blue Origin’s fans, Bezos noted that ground has been broken for an orbital vehicle manufacturing site at Exploration Park, just south of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Ground-clearing actually began last month.)
“The 750,000-square-foot rocket factory is custom-built from the ground up to accommodate manufacturing, processing, integration and testing,” Bezos wrote. In comparison, the production facility in Kent where Blue Origin is building rocket engines and its New Shepard suborbital spaceships takes in about 300,000 square feet.
“It’s exciting to see the bulldozers in action – we’re clearing the way for the production of a reusable fleet of orbital vehicles that we will launch and land, again and again,” Bezos said.
The factory is due for completion in December 2017. “Among other things, the facility hosts large-scale friction stir welding and automated composite processing equipment,” Bezos wrote.
One of the big questions has to do with production of the natural gas-fueled BE-4 rocket engine that Blue Origin is developing for use on its future orbital rockets as well as for United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket. In his email, Bezos said that everything for Blue Origin’s orbital vehicles will be built at the Florida facility – except for the engine.
“Initial BE-4 engine production will occur at our Kent facility while we conduct a site selection process later this year for a larger engine production facility to accommodate higher production rates,” Bezos said.
During last week’s NewSpace 2016 conference in Seattle, Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson said the BE-4 site selection process would unfold over the coming year.
State incentives could play a part in the process. In January, Meyerson told business executives in Seattle that the expiration of tax credits made Washington state less competitive. But when Meyerson was asked last week what Washington state residents should say to their lawmakers about the issue, he put a more positive spin on the state’s prospects.
“I think Washington is already … a great place to set up shop, so I think telling your congressman that you’re interested in space and the space industry is the first thing,” Meyerson said, “and encouraging them to continue to do things – make investments in education, investments in the kinds of things that are going to bring in businesses like Blue Origin and keep us here in the area.”
Bezos’ strategy for Blue Origin is to start out with suborbital flights that would send passengers and scientific payloads on brief, up-and-down trips from the company’s launch facility in West Texas. The latest uncrewed test flight of the reusable New Shepard craft took place in Texas last week.
Blue Origin’s Florida facility is meant to play the key role in expanding the company’s reach to Earth orbit, with the long-term goal of having millions of people living and working in space.