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Amazon’s billionaire founder, Jeff Bezos, inspects Blue Origin’s launch facility in West Texas before a test flight in April. (Credit: Blue Origin)

GUADALAJARA, Mexico – SpaceX isn’t the only billionaire-backed company that’s planning to go to Mars: Blue Origin, the space venture created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is also taking aim at Mars, the moon and other deep-space destinations.

Those missions are implied in Bezos’ long-term vision of having millions of people living and working in space, Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson said today at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara.

One small step toward that goal is due to come next week, when Blue Origin puts its suborbital New Shepard spaceship through its most challenging flight test yet at the company’s launch site in West Texas.

The Mars angle came up when an audience member asked Meyerson about a much larger rocket, the New Armstrong, which is only now on the drawing boards at Blue Origin’s headquarters south of Seattle.

New Shepard is named after the late astronaut Alan Shepard, who took NASA’s first suborbital space trip in 1961. New Armstrong takes its name from the late Neil Armstrong, who took humanity’s first walk on the moon’s surface eight years later.

When the questioner asked about the significance of the name, and whether Blue Origin had any plans to go to Mars, Meyerson answered in the context of Bezos’ vision.

“When we have millions of people living and working in space, we want them to be able to go to lots of destinations,” he said. “Mars would be one of them. The moon would be another. New Armstrong is really designed for that long-term vision.”

Meyerson added that “this is a vision that will take decades to achieve.”

 

Meyerson provided no further details about New Armstrong’s capabilities, but from the sounds of it, the rocket would be designed to handle missions similar to the interplanetary transport system that SpaceX is developing. SpaceX’s billionaire CEO, Elon Musk, was scheduled to discuss that system, and his larger vision for Mars settlement, at the Guadalajara meeting later in the day.

In addition to New Armstrong and New Shepard, Meyerson laid out the basic specifications for New Glenn, an orbital launch vehicle that’s named after John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth.

Earlier this month, Bezos said that New Glenn would have a first stage that’s powered by seven of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engines, and would be capable of landing itself after a launch. The rocket will come in two-stage and three-stage configurations for putting payloads in low Earth orbit or much higher geosynchronous orbits.

Meyerson confirmed that New Glenn could carry people as well as cargo, and that a crew module was part of the design. He declined to go deeply into the details but said more information would be released during the first quarter of next year.

As to next week’s New Shepard test flight, Meyerson said New Shepard’s capsule would be programmed to fire off its emergency escape system during the most stressful part of the booster’s ascent.

Most of the simulations suggest that the booster, which has made four round trips to space over the past year, would be destroyed in the process. However, there’s a slight chance that the booster would survive and make an autonomous landing back at the Texas test site.

Either in whole or in pieces, both the crew capsule and the booster would be retired to a museum after the flight, and another New Shepard would take its place in the test program.

Although Blue Origin has declined to say which museum (or museums) would get the artifacts, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum and Seattle’s Museum of Flight would almost certainly be among the top contenders.

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