Blue Origin hasn’t put up the “Grand Opening” sign yet, but there’s clearly business going on at the Florida rocket facilities built by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space venture.
The latest sign came today, when Blue Origin tweeted out a picture of propellant tanks being delivered to Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, which is destined to host Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket.
“Starting to look more and more like a launch pad!” the tweet read.
Blue Origin employees are also moving into a 750,000-square-foot New Glenn production facility that’s being built about 10 miles away. Last week’s tweeted picture of cubicle tchotchkes (plus a Blue Origin hardhat) was captioned as “the moment you know you’ve officially moved into the rocket factory.”
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) December 14, 2017
Blue Origin’s business development manager, Erika Wagner, reportedly joked at this week’s Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Colorado that the Florida factory was looking “a bit like a rocket IKEA.”
Operations at the Florida factory are expected to begin in earnest next year, leading up to the first flight of the New Glenn rocket in 2020. There’ll be a 283-foot-high two-stage variant, and a 326-foot-high three-stage version. The first stage will have seven BE-4 rocket engines fueled with liquefied natural gas, and the upper stages would use BE-4U and BE-3U engines.
The two-stage rocket is designed to put up to 99,000 pounds of payload into low Earth orbit, with the first-stage booster capable of flying itself back to a landing platform for recovery and reuse. Those specs make the two-stager more powerful than SpaceX’s Falcon 9, but less powerful than the Falcon Heavy.
There’s less detail available about the three-stage version, but Bezos has said New Glenn could be used to send payloads to the moon.
At the same time, Blue Origin is working on a suborbital spaceship called New Shepard, manufactured in Kent, Wash. Blue Origin’s latest version of New Shepard successfully went through its first uncrewed flight test last week in West Texas, and if all goes according to plan, people could start getting on board the next version sometime next year.
A key factor for Blue Origin’s growth is the development of the BE-4 rocket engine, which is slated to be used on United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket as well as New Glenn. The engine is currently undergoing test firings, and if ULA gives the thumbs-up, engine production would shift from Kent to a new factory in Huntsville, Ala.
As Blue Origin’s footprint grows, so does its workforce: Wagner was quoted as saying that the number of employees has grown from 170 in 2012, when she started with the company, to 1,400 today.