Blue Origin

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Blue Origin
Industry Aerospace
Founded September 2000
Headquarters Kent, Washington
Key people
Jeff Bezos
Products Sub-orbital spaceflight, Rocket engines
Revenue n/a
Slogan Gradatim Ferociter!

Blue Origin is a privately funded aerospace company set up by founder Jeff Bezos. The company is developing technologies to enable private human access to space with the goal of dramatically lower cost and increased reliability. It is employing an incremental approach from suborbital to orbital flight, with each developmental step building on its prior work. The company motto is "Gradatim Ferociter", Latin for "Step-by-Step, Ferociously". Blue origin is developing a variety of technologies, with a focus on rocket-powered Vertical Takeoff and Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicles for access to suborbital and orbital space.[1]

Initially focused on sub-orbital spaceflight, the company has built and flown a testbed of its New Shepard spacecraft design at their Culberson County, Texas facility. According to company statements, it initially planned on placing the New Shepard in commercial suborbital tourist service in 2010 with flights about once a week.[2] In 2008 the publicized timetable stated that Blue Origin will fly unmanned in 2011, and manned in 2012.[3] As of 2013, the company website makes no statements about the date of its first flights.

Late 2014 public announcements, and a contractual agreement to build a new rocket engine for major US launch system operator United Launch Alliance, have put Blue Origin into the middle of the orbital spaceflight technology business, as a rocket engine supplier.


Blue Origin's three developed spacecraft: (1) (Suborbital) Goddard subscale demonstrator, (2) (Suborbital) New Shepard system, (3) Space Vehicle (on top of the Orbital Launch Vehicle which when stacked is the Orbital Transportation System.)[4]

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has been interested in space from an early age. A profile published in 2013 described a 1982 Miami Herald interview Bezos gave after he was named valedictorian of his high school class. The 18-year-old Bezos "said he wanted to build space hotels, amusement parks and colonies for 2 million or 3 million people who would be in orbit. 'The whole idea is to preserve the earth' he told the newspaper .... The goal was to be able to evacuate humans. The planet would become a park."[5]

Since the founding of Blue Origin, the company has been famously tight-lipped about its plans.[2][6] Early work, starting somewhat before the official incorporation of the company, involved work on planetary defense studies. The company has never publically announced involvement in that work nor results of the studies.[7] The company was formally incorporated in 2000, but its existence only became public in 2003, when Bezos started buying land in Texas and interested parties followed up on the purchases. This was a topic of some interest in local politics,[8] and Bezos' rapid aggregation of lots under a variety of whimsically named shell companies was called a "land grab".[9]

In January 2005, Bezos told the editor of the Van Horn Advocate that Blue Origin is developing a sub-orbital space vehicle that will take off and land vertically and carry three or more astronauts to the edge of space.[10] The spacecraft is based on technology like that used for the McDonnell Douglas DC-X and derivative DC-XA. Bezos told Reuters in November 2004 that his company hopes to progress to orbital spaceflight. As of January 2005, the company's website announced that it hopes to establish an "enduring human presence in space", but the 2007 version talks instead of aiming to "patiently and step-by-step, to lower the cost of spaceflight so that many people can afford to go and so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system". Science fiction author Neal Stephenson worked part-time at Blue Origin until November 15, 2006.[11]

In a 2011 interview, Bezos indicated that he founded the company to help enable "anybody to go into space" and that to do so, he must focus on two objectives: thus, the mission of Blue Origin is to decrease the cost of access to space and increase the safety of human spaceflight.[12]

As of July 2014, Bezos has invested over $500 million of his money into Blue Origin.[13]

In September 2014, the company and United Launch Alliance (ULA) entered into a partnership where Blue will produce a large rocket engine—the BE-4—for the successor to the Atlas V, a 10,000–19,000 kilograms (22,000–42,000 lb)-class launch vehicle that has launched US national security payloads since the early 2000s. The announcement included that Blue had been working on this engine for three years prior to the public announcement, and that the first flight on the new rocket could be as early as 2019.[14]


The company is headquartered on 25 acres (10 ha) of industrial land in Kent, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, where its research and development is located. A basic launch pad is located in Texas at 31°27′06″N 104°45′46″W / 31.4517°N 104.7628°W / 31.4517; -104.7628, about 3.9 miles (6.3 km) north of a check-out building.

As of August 2013, Blue Origin had submitted a bid for leasing Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, following NASA's decision to lease the unused complex out as part of a bid to reduce annual operation and maintenance costs. The bid was for shared and non-exclusive use of the complex such that the launchpad could have interfaced with multiple vehicles, and costs for using the launch pad could be shared over the long term. One potential shared user in the Blue Origin notional plan was United Launch Alliance. A competing bid for commercial use of the launch complex was submitted by SpaceX, which submitted a bid for exclusive use of the launch complex to support their crewed missions.[15]

In September 2013—prior to completion of the bid period, and prior to any public announcement by NASA of the results of the process—Blue Origin filed a protest with the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) "over what it says is a plan by NASA to award an exclusive commercial lease to SpaceX for use of mothballed space shuttle launch pad 39A."[16] NASA had planned to complete the bid award and have the pad transferred by October 1, 2013, but the protest "will delay any decision until the GAO reaches a decision, expected by mid-December."[16] SpaceX has said that they are willing to support a multi-user arrangement for pad 39.[17] In December 2013, the GAO denied the protest and sided with NASA, which argued that the solicitation contains no preference on the use of the facility as multi-use or single-use. "The [solicitation] document merely asks bidders to explain their reasons for selecting one approach instead of the other and how they would manage the facility."[18]

In the event, NASA selected the SpaceX proposal in late 2013 and signed a 20-year lease contract for Launch Pad 39A to SpaceX in April 2014.[19]

Low-altitude Flight Platforms[edit]


Blue Origin's first flight test vehicle, called Charon, was powered by four vertically mounted Rolls-Royce Viper Mk. 301 jet engines rather than rockets. The low-altitude vehicle was developed to test autonomous guidance and control technologies, and the processes that the company would use to develop its later rockets. Charon made its only test flight at Moses Lake, Washington on March 5, 2005. It flew to an altitude of 316 feet (96 m) before returning for a controlled landing near the liftoff point.[20][21]

Charon is currently on display at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.


The next example, named the Goddard (also known as PM1), first flew on November 13, 2006. The flight was successful. However, a second test flight filed for December 2 never launched.[22][23] According to Federal Aviation Administration records, two further flights were performed by Goddard.

New Shepard Suborbital System[edit]

Further information: Blue Origin New Shepard

The company is currently building the New Shepard system for suborbital spaceflight. The New Shepard system is composed of two flight vehicles: a Crew Capsule for carrying three or more astronauts, launched by a rocket-powered Propulsion Module. The two vehicles lift off together, and are designed to separate during flight. After separation, the Propulsion Module returns to Earth to autonomously perform a rocket-powered vertical landing. The Crew Capsule follows a separate trajectory, returning under parachutes for a land touchdown. Both vehicles will be recovered and reused.[24] The New Shepard will be controlled entirely by on-board computers.[25] In addition to flying astronauts, it will provide frequent opportunities for researchers to fly experiments into suborbital space.[26]

In an interview with television show host Charlie Rose on November 19, 2007, Bezos reported that the construction of a second test vehicle was in progress and that a third development vehicle would be built after that, before any commercial flights would begin.[27]

A Federal Aviation Administration NOTAM indicated that a flight test was scheduled for August 24, 2011.[28] The August 24, 2011 test flight in west Texas failed when ground personnel lost contact and control of the vehicle. The company recovered remnants of the spacecraft after a ground search.[29] Blue Origin released the results of the cause of the test vehicle failure on September 2. As the vehicle reached a speed of Mach 1.2 and 45,000 feet (14,000 m) altitude, a "flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered [the] range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle."[30]

On October 19, 2012, Blue Origin conducted a successful Pad Escape at its West Texas launch site, firing its pusher escape motor and launching a full-scale suborbital Crew Capsule from a launch vehicle simulator. The Crew Capsule traveled to an altitude of 2,307 feet under active thrust vector control before descending safely by parachute to a soft landing 1,630 feet downrange.[31]

Orbital Space Systems[edit]

Blue Origin's orbital Space Vehicle in-flight rendering

Blue Origin has also started developing systems for orbital human spacecraft. The reusable first-stage booster will fly a suborbital trajectory, taking off vertically like the booster stage of a conventional multistage rocket. Following stage separation, the upper stage will continue to propel the astronauts to orbit while the first-stage booster will descend to perform a powered vertical landing similar to the New Shepard suborbital Propulsion Module. The first-stage booster would be refueled and launched again, allowing improved reliability and lowering the cost of human access to space.[24]

The booster rocket will loft Blue Origin’s biconic Space Vehicle to orbit, carrying astronauts and supplies. After orbiting the Earth, the Space Vehicle will reenter Earth’s atmosphere to land on land under parachutes, and then be reused on future missions to Earth orbit.[24]

Blue Origin successfully completed a System Requirements Review (SRR) of its orbital Space Vehicle in May 2012.[32]

Engine testing for the Reusable Booster System (RBS) vehicle began in 2012. A full-power test of the thrust chamber for Blue Origin BE-3 liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen rocket engine was conducted at a NASA test facility in October 2012. The chamber successfully achieved full thrust of 100,000 pounds-force (about 440 kN).[33]

Test flights[edit]

  • First test flight: 5 March 2005 (Charon)[20]
  • Second test flight: 13 November 2006, 06:30 (Goddard)[34]
  • Third test flight: 22 March 2007 (Goddard)[35]
  • Fourth test flight: 19 April 2007 (Goddard)[36]
  • Fifth test flight: 6 May 2011 (New Shepard propulsion module (PM2))[37]
  • Sixth test flight: 24 August 2011 (PM2, failure, loss of vehicle)[38]
  • Pad escape test flight: 19 October 2012[31]

Rocket engine development[edit]


Main article: BE-3

Blue publically announced the development of the Blue Engine 3, or BE-3, in January 2013. BE-3 is a new liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen (LH2/LOX) cryogenic engine that can produce 490 kilonewtons (110,000 lbf) of thrust at full power, and can be throttled down to as low as 25,000 pounds-force (110 kN) for use in controlled vertical landings.[39]

Early thrust chamber testing began at NASA Stennis[40] in 2013.[41]

By late 2013, the BE-3 had been successfully tested on a full-duration suborbital burn, with simulated coast phases and engine relights, "demonstrating deep throttle, full power, long-duration and reliable restart all in a single-test sequence."[39] NASA has released a video of the test.[41] As of December 2013, the engine had "demonstrated more than 160 starts and 9,100 seconds (2.5 h) of operation at Blue Origin’s test facility near Van Horn, Texas."[39][42]


The BE-3U engine is a modified BE-3 for use on upper stages of Blue Origin orbital launch vehicles. The engine will include a nozzle better optimized for operation under vacuum conditions as well as a number of other manufacturing differences since it is an expendable engine whereas the BE-3 is designed for reusability.[6]


Main article: BE-4

Blue Origin began work on a new and much larger rocket engine in 2011. The new engine, the Blue Engine 4, or BE-4, is a change for Blue Origin in that it is their first engine that will combust liquid oxygen and liquid methane propellants. The engine has been designed to produce 2,400 kilonewtons (550,000 lbf) of thrust, and was initially planned to be used exclusively on a Blue Origin proprietary launch vehicle. Blue did not announce the new engine to the public until September 2014.[43]

In late 2014, Blue Origin signed an agreement with United Launch Alliance to co-develop the BE-4 engine, and to commit to use the new engine on an upgraded Atlas V launch vehicle, replacing the single RD-180 Russian-made engine. The new launch vehicle will use two of the 2,400 kN (550,000 lbf) BE-4 engines on each first stage. The engine development program began three years ago.[43][14]

ULA expects the first flight of the new launch vehicle no earlier than 2019.[43]

Based on previous cooperation with United Launch Alliance member Boeing on the DARPA XS-1 reusable booster program, the BE-4 may be a contender for their XS-1 proposal.[44][full citation needed]

Pusher escape motor[edit]

Blue Origin developed a pusher escape motor for its suborbital Crew Capsule.

In late 2012, Blue performed a full-scale flight test of the escape system on the full-scale suborbital capsule.[31]

Collaborations with NASA[edit]

Though privately funded, Blue Origin has worked with NASA on several development efforts. The company was awarded $3.7 million in funding in 2009 by NASA via a Space Act Agreement[45][46] under the first Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program for development of concepts and technologies to support future human spaceflight operations.[47][48] NASA co-funded risk-mitigation activities related to ground testing of (1) an innovative ‘pusher’ escape system, that lowers cost by being reusable and enhances safety by avoiding the jettison event of a traditional ‘tractor’ Launch Escape System, and (2) an innovative composite pressure vessel cabin that both reduces weight and increases safety of astronauts.[45] This was later revealed to be a part of a larger system, designed for a biconic capsule, that would be launched atop an Atlas V rocket.[49] On November 8, 2010, it was announced that Blue had completed all milestones under its CCDev Space Act Agreement.[50]

In April 2011, Blue Origin received a commitment from NASA for $22 million of funding under the CCDev phase 2 program.[51] Milestones included (1) performing a Mission Concept Review (MCR) and System Requirements Review (SRR) on the orbital Space Vehicle, which utilizes a biconic shape to optimize its launch profile and atmospheric reentry, (2) further maturing the pusher escape system, including ground and flight tests, and (3) accelerating development of its BE-3 LOX/LH2 100,000 lbf engine through full-scale thrust chamber testing.[52]

In 2012, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program released its follow-on CCiCap solicitation for the development of crew delivery to ISS by 2017. Blue Origin did not submit a proposal for CCiCap, but is reportedly continuing work on its development program with private funding.[53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Blue Origin". Blue Origin. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  2. ^ a b Alan Boyle (2006-06-24). "Blue's Rocket Clues". Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  3. ^ [1][dead link]
  4. ^ "NasaTelevision: Commercial Crew Progress Status Update". 2013-01-09. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  5. ^ Whoriskey, Peter (2013-08-12). "For Jeff Bezos, a new frontier". Washington Post. Retrieved 2013-08-10. 
  6. ^ a b Foust, Jeff (2013-12-07). "Blue Origin shows off its engine". NewSpace Journal. Retrieved 2013-12-10. 
  7. ^ Foust, Jeff (2013-11-06). "Blue Origin and planetary defense". NewSpace Journal. Retrieved 2013-11-16. 
  8. ^ Alan Boyle (2006-11-11). "Blue Origin Revealed". Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  9. ^ Mylene Mangalindan (2006-11-10). "Buzz in West Texas is about Jeff Bezos space craft launch site". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  10. ^ Michael Graczyk (2005-03-15). "Blue Origin Spaceport Plans are Talk of Texas Town". Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  11. ^ [2][dead link]
  12. ^ Levy, Stephen (2011-11-13). "Jeff Bezos Owns the Web in More Ways Than You Think". Wired. Retrieved 2011-12-09. 
  13. ^ Foust, Jeff (2014-07-18). "Bezos Investment in Blue Origin Exceeds $500 Million". Space News. Retrieved 2014-07-20. 
  14. ^ a b Achenbach, Joel (2014-09-17). "Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin to supply engines for national security space launches". Washington Post. Retrieved 2014-09-27. 
  15. ^ Matthews, Mark K. (2013-08-18). "Musk, Bezos fight to win lease of iconic NASA launchpad". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2013-08-21. 
  16. ^ a b Messier, Doug (2013-09-10). "Blue Origin Files Protest Over Lease on Pad 39A". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 2013-09-11. 
  17. ^ Foust, Jeff (2013-09-21). "A minor kerfuffle over LC-39A letters". Space Politics. Retrieved 2013-09-25. 
  18. ^ Messier, Doug (2013-12-12). "Blue Origin Loses GAO Appeal Over Pad 39A Bid Process". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 2013-12-13. 
  19. ^ Dean, James (2014-04-15). "With nod to history, SpaceX gets launch pad 39A OK". Florida Today. Retrieved 2014-09-16. 
  20. ^ a b "Blue Origin Charon Test Vehicle". The Museum of Flight. Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  21. ^ "Blue Origin's Original Charon Flying Vehicle Goes on Display at The Museum of Flight". The Museum of Flight. Retrieved 4 March 2013. 
  22. ^ Alan Boyle (2006-11-28). "Blue Origin Rocket Report". Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  23. ^ Alan Boyle (2006-12-02). "Blue Alert For Blastoff". Retrieved 2008-05-28. 
  24. ^ a b c "Blue Origin - About Blue". Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  25. ^ [3][dead link]
  26. ^ "Blue Origin - Research". Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  27. ^ Bezos, Jeff; Rose, Charlie (2007-11-19). "A conversation with CEO Jeff Bezos". Retrieved 2008-06-10. 
  28. ^ "1/3552 NOTAM Details". 2011-08-23. Retrieved 2011-08-23. 
  29. ^ Pasztor, Andy (2011-09-02). "Bezos-Funded Spaceship Misfires". 
  30. ^ Bezos, Jeff (2011-09-02). "Successful Short Hop, Set Back, and Next Vehicle". Letter. Blue Origin. Retrieved 2011-09-03. 
  31. ^ a b c "Blue Origin Conducts Successful Pad Escape Test". Blue Origin. 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  32. ^ "Blue Origin Completes Spacecraft System Requirements Review". Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  33. ^ "Blue Origin tests 100k lb LOX/LH2 engine in commercial crew program". NewSpace Watch. 2012-10-16. Retrieved 2012-10-17. (subscription required (help)). 
  34. ^ Graczyk, Michael (2006-11-14). "Private space firm launches 1st test rocket". Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2007-01-07. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  35. ^ Boyle, Alan (2007-03-23). "Rocket Revelations". MSNBC. Retrieved 2008-01-29. 
  36. ^ "Recently Completed/Historical Launch Data". FAA AST. Retrieved 2008-02-03. 
  37. ^ "Recently Completed/Historical Launch Data". FAA AST. Retrieved 2011-05-30. 
  38. ^ "Blue Origin has a bad day (and so do some of the media)". Retrieved 3 September 2011. 
  39. ^ a b c Messier, Doug (2013-12-03). "Blue Origin Tests New Engine in Simulated Suborbital Mission Profile". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  40. ^ "Updates on commercial crew development". NewSpace Journal. 2013-01-17. Retrieved 2013-01-21. 
  41. ^ a b Messier, Doug (2013-12-03). "Video of Blue Origin Engine Test". Parabolic Arc. Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  42. ^ Blue Origin Tests New Engine, Aviation Week, 2013-12-09, accessed 2014-09-16.
  43. ^ a b c Ferster, Warren (2014-09-17). "ULA To Invest in Blue Origin Engine as RD-180 Replacement". Space News. Retrieved 2014-09-19. 
  44. ^
  45. ^ a b "Blue Origin Space Act Agreement". Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  46. ^ "Blue Origin Space Act Agreement". Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  47. ^ "NASA Selects Commercial Firms to Begin Development of Crew Transportation Concepts and Technology Demonstrations for Human Spaceflight Using Recovery Act Funds". press release (NASA). February 1, 2010. Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  48. ^ Jeff Foust. "Blue Origin proposes orbital vehicle". Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  49. ^ [4][dead link]
  50. ^ "Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) Round One Companies Have Reached Substantial Hardware Milestones In Only 9 Months, New Images and Data Show". Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  51. ^ Morring, Frank, Jr. (2011-04-22). "Five Vehicles Vie To Succeed Space Shuttle". Aviation Week. Retrieved 2011-02-23. the CCDev-2 awards, ... went to Blue Origin, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX). 
  52. ^ "Blue Origin CCDev 2 Space Act Agreement". Retrieved 2013-12-05. 
  53. ^ "NASA announces $1.1 billion in support for a trio of spaceships". Retrieved 2013-12-05. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 47°24′37″N 122°14′15″W / 47.41028°N 122.23750°W / 47.41028; -122.23750