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AFRL's Altitude facility
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s altitude facility at Edwards Air Force Base conducts research on next-generation rocket components, propellant formulations and subsystems; and high-vacuum research on satellite components. Research testing includes solid rocket motor testing at simulated altitudes up to 120,000 feet. (AFRL Photo)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is partnering with the Air Force Research Laboratory to develop a new test facility at California’s Edwards Air Force Base for Blue Origin’s BE-7 rocket engine.

  • The hydrogen-fueled BE-7 is destined to power Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander, which NASA is considering for crewed missions to the moon as early as 2024. Last month, the two partners signed a 15-year agreement that calls for Blue Origin to fund capital improvements at AFRL’s rocket lab at Edwards. The Air Force base has a storied history as the place where flight tests and engine testing set the stage for the Space Race and the space shuttle era.
  • Blue Origin, which is headquartered in Kent, Wash., will add liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant capabilities and make other facility upgrades at the California site. “Repurposing the infrastructure at the 1-42 test site enables us to accelerate development of the BE-7 engine for our Blue Moon lunar lander,” Eric Blumer, senior director for the BE-7 engine program, said Monday in a news release. Blue Origin recently established a rocket engine development office in Los Angeles, and the company’s careers website lists 10 L.A.-based jobs.
  • The industry team behind the Blue Moon landing system — which includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper as well as Blue Origin — is waiting to hear from NASA whether it will be selected for a development contract. That development work could lead to the system being used for NASA’s Artemis moon program, but there are other companies in the commercial lunar lander competition — including Boeing, a team led by Dynetics and Sierra Nevada Corp., and probably SpaceX as well.
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