The spotlight on the hydrogen-fueled BE-3U engine comes amid reports that Blue Origin is rapidly ramping up its New Glenn development program — and amid questions over whether Blue Origin can start launching New Glenn by the end of 2020, as originally planned.
There’s also lots of activity relating to other aspects of Bezos’ aspirations.
This week, NASA awarded $13 million to Blue Origin to boost development of tipping-point technologies related to the company’s Blue Moon lunar lander program. And Blue Origin could reap $1 million more thanks to a different NASA award for a study relating to commercialization of human spaceflight in low Earth orbit.
Even though Blue Origin has launched rockets only on suborbital space missions, the Kent, Wash.-based company has its sights set on a wide range of spaceflight technologies. One of its more than 250 online job listings is putting out the call for a deep-space systems architect:
“As part of a small, passionate, and accomplished advanced development team, you will be an architect of deep space systems such as propulsion elements, propellant depots, spacecraft, landers, habitats, and various surface systems that support both human and robotic missions. You will help lead small and multi-disciplinary teams to align these system architectures with company strategies, products, and technology maturation plans. …”
The job listing fits with Bezos’ long-term vision of having millions of people living and working in space, with Blue Origin doing “anything we need to do” to establish habitats in space, on the moon and beyond.
Blue Origin is also looking for a principal technologist for human spaceflight.
The company’s workforce already has passed the 1,500-employee mark, and last week, Reuters quoted an unnamed source as saying Blue Origin is aiming to double that figure over the next two or three years. (Blue Origin doesn’t comment publicly about its future employment plans.)
The main priorities include getting New Glenn off the ground, which will require the completion of development and testing of the vacuum-rated, 150,000-pound-thrust BE-3U engine as well as the more powerful BE-4 first-stage engine, which is fueled with liquefied natural gas and should provide 550,000 pounds of liftoff thrust.
At last report, the BE-4 development effort was hitting its marks with engine qualification due by the end of the year. And in today’s posting to Twitter and Instagram, Blue Origin said the BE-3U has “completed over 700 seconds of test time”:
Recent footage of BE-3U demonstration engine hot fire. Two BE-3Us will power upper stage of #NewGlenn & deliver our customers to orbit. We’ve completed over 700 seconds of test time & confirmed performance assumptions used for final BE-3U expander cycle design #GradatimFerociter pic.twitter.com/ygJlgHkyE1
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) August 10, 2018
Last year, Blue Origin struck a deal with Eutelsat for a New Glenn satellite launch in the 2021-2022 time frame, but Reuters quoted its source as saying that the time frame could be stretched if New Glenn isn’t ready in time.
Eutelsat’s deputy CEO, Yohann Leroy, told Reuters he was optimistic that New Glenn would be ready by the end of 2022. “Of course, I cannot guarantee that they will respect their initial timeline, but we are confident that they will not be very far from it,” Leroy was quoted as saying.
Blue Origin has several other targeted milestones ahead, including its first crewed suborbital spaceflight on New Shepard (end of 2018), start of commercial passenger flights (2019) and first Blue Moon lunar landing (2023 or earlier).
Such dates almost always shift to the right. For example, back in 2012, people thought that U.S. spaceships would be flying to the International Space Station by 2016. Back in 2006, Blue Origin thought it’d be flying paying passengers by 2010. And back in 2004, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson predicted that his company would be flying customers to space by 2007.
Compared to those schedule misses, what’s a few months, or even a year?