Blue Origin

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Blue Origin
Industry Aerospace
Founded September 2000
Headquarters Kent, Washington
Key people
Jeff Bezos, Rob Meyerson
Revenue n/a
Slogan Gradatim Ferociter!

Blue Origin is an American privately-funded aerospace developer and manufacturer 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" or literally "Gradually Ferocious". 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] The company's name refers to the blue planet, Earth, as the point of origin.

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. The first developmental test flight of the New Shepard was April 29, 2015. The uncrewed vehicle flew to its planned test altitude of more than 93.5 km (307,000 ft) and achieved a top speed of Mach 3. Another flight was performed on November 23, 2015. The vehicle went just beyond 100 km (330,000 ft) altitude and both the space capsule and its rocket booster successfully achieved a soft landing. On January 22, 2016 Blue Origin re-flew the same New Shepard booster that launched and landed vertically in November 2015, demonstrating reuse. This time, New Shepard reached an apogee of 333,582 feet (101.7 kilometers) before both capsule and booster returned to Earth for recovery and reuse.[2]

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

In September 2015, Blue Origin announced plans to manufacture and fly its orbital launch vehicle from the Florida Space Coast.

As of April 2015, ULA is also considering the BE-3 for use in a new second stage—the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES)—which will become the primary upper stage for ULA's Vulcan orbital launch vehicle in the 2020s. The Vulcan will begin orbital flights in 2019 with an existing Centaur upper stage, and is considering three engines from various manufacturers for the ACES stage which would begin flight in 2023.[3]


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.[6][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, and Bezos' rapid aggregation of lots under a variety of whimsically named shell companies was called[by whom?] a "land grab".[8]

In January 2005, Bezos told the editor of the Van Horn Advocate that Blue Origin was developing a sub-orbital space vehicle that would take off and land vertically and carry three or more astronauts to the edge of space.[9] The spacecraft would be 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 hoped to progress to orbital spaceflight. As of January 2005, the company's website announced that it hoped to establish an "enduring human presence in space", but the 2007 version wrote instead of aiming "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 15 November 2006[10] and credited Blue Origin employees for ideas and discussions leading to his 2015 novel Seveneves.

As of 2006, Blue Origin discussed plans to place the New Shepard in commercial suborbital tourist service in 2010 with flights about once a week.[6][dead link] By 2008, the publicized timetable stated that Blue Origin intended to fly unmanned in 2011, and manned in 2012.[11] In the event, the first developmental test flight of the New Shepard occurred on April 29, 2015. The uncrewed vehicle flew to its planned test altitude of more than 307,000 feet (93,500 meters) and achieved a top speed of Mach 3.[12]

In a 2011 interview, Bezos indicated that he founded Blue Origin to send customers into space by focusing on two objectives: to decrease the cost and to increase the safety of human spaceflight.[13]

As of July 2014, Bezos had invested over $500 million of his money into Blue Origin.[14]

In September 2014, the company and United Launch Alliance (ULA) entered into a partnership whereby Blue Origin would 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 added that Blue Origin had been working on the engine for three years prior to the public announcement, and that the first flight on the new rocket could occur as early as 2019.[15]

In April 2015, Blue Origin announced that it had completed acceptance testing of the BE-3 engine that would power the New Shepard space capsule to be used for Blue Origin suborbital flights.[16] Following New Shepard’s maiden flight, Blue began accepting registration for early access to tickets and pricing information for suborbital spaceflights.

In July 2015, NanoRacks, a provider of services such as payload design and development, safety approvals, and integration, announced a partnership with Blue Origin to provide standardized payload accommodations for experiments flying on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle.[17]

In September 2015, Blue Origin announced high-level details of a planned orbital launch vehicle, indicating that the first stage would be powered by its BE-4 engine currently under development while the second stage would be powered by its recently completed BE-3 rocket engine. In addition, Blue Origin announced that it would both manufacture and launch the new rocket from the Florida Space Coast. No payload or gross launch weight was given. Bezos noted in interviews that this new launch vehicle would not compete for US government national security missions, leaving that market to United Launch Alliance and SpaceX.[18]

On November 23, 2015, Blue Origin launched the New Shepard rocket to space[19] to an altitude of 329,839 feet, or 100.5 kilometers, and vertically landed the rocket booster less than 5 feet from the center of the pad. The capsule descended to the ground under parachutes 11 minutes after blasting off and landed safely. This marks the first time a booster has flown to space and returned to earth marking a major step in the pursuit of a fully reusable rocket.[20] This flight validated the vehicle architecture and design. The ring fin shifted the center of pressure aft to help control reentry and descent; eight large drag brakes deployed and reduced the vehicle’s terminal speed to 387 mph; hydraulically actuated fins steered the vehicle through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to a location precisely aligned with and 5,000 feet above the landing pad; then the highly-throttleable BE-3 engine re-ignited to slow the booster as the landing gear deployed and the vehicle descended the last 100 feet at 4.4 mph to touchdown on the pad.[21] On January 22, 2016 Blue Origin re-flew the same New Shepard booster that launched and landed vertically in November 2015, demonstrating reuse. This time, New Shepard reached an apogee of 333,582 feet (101.7 kilometers) before both capsule and booster returned to Earth for recovery and reuse.


Blue Origin has a development facility near Seattle, Washington and an operational launch facility in West Texas. Blue is developing a new orbital launch facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Development facility and headquarters[edit]

The company is headquartered on 26 acres (11 ha) of industrial land in Kent, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, where its research and development is located. As of May 2015, the 260,000-square-foot (24,000 m2)-facility houses over 350 persons working on engineering, manufacturing and business operations.[22]

Florida manufacturing facility and orbital launch site[edit]

In September 2015, Blue Origin leased Launch Complex 36 in Cape Canaveral, Florida to build a launch pad for their orbital launch vehicle. They also plan to manufacture their new BE-4-powered orbital launch vehicle at the nearby Exploration Park. As of August 2015, the first Blue launch from LC36 is planned for before 2020.[23]

West Texas suborbital launch site[edit]

Blue Origin has a suborbital launch facility located in West Texas, near the town of Van Horn. Current launch license and experimental permits from the US government Federal Aviation Administration authorize flights of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital system,[24] As of May 2015, Blue has a staff of approximately 50 supporting the West Texas facility.[22]

The launch pad is located at 31°25′23″N 104°45′26″W / 31.422927°N 104.757152°W / 31.422927; -104.757152, about 1.8 miles (2.9 km) north of the check-out building. The landing pad is located at 31°27′06″N 104°45′46″W / 31.4517°N 104.7628°W / 31.4517; -104.7628, about 3.8 miles (6.1 km) north of a check-out building and 2 miles (3.2 km) north of the launch pad.

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.[25][26]

Charon is currently on display at The Museum of Flight in Seattle, Washington.[citation needed]


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.[27][28] According to Federal Aviation Administration records, two further flights were performed by Goddard.[citation needed]

New Shepard suborbital system[edit]

Further information: Blue Origin New Shepard
New Shepard Launch on 29 April 2015.

Blue Origin's New Shepard suborbital spaceflight system is composed of two vehicles: a crew capsule accommodating three or more astronauts launched by a rocket booster. The two vehicles lift off together and are designed to separate during flight. After separation, the booster is designed to return to Earth to perform a vertical landing while the crew capsule follows a separate trajectory, returning under parachutes for a land touchdown. Both vehicles are intended for recovery and re-use.[29] New Shepard is controlled entirely by on-board computers.[30] In addition to flying astronauts, New Shepard is intended to provide frequent opportunities for researchers to fly experiments into suborbital space.[31]

New Shepard landing with parachutes on 29 April 2015.

A Federal Aviation Administration NOTAM indicated that a flight test of an early suborbital test vehicle – PM2 – was scheduled for 24 August 2011.[32] The flight in west Texas failed when ground personnel lost contact and control of the vehicle. Blue Origin released its analysis of the failure on 2 September. As the vehicle reached a speed of Mach 1.2 and 14 km (46,000 ft) altitude, a "flight instability drove an angle of attack that triggered [the] range safety system to terminate thrust on the vehicle."[33]

On 19 October 2012, Blue Origin conducted a successful New Shepherd pad escape test at its West Texas launch site, firing its pusher escape motor and launching a full-scale crew capsule from a launch vehicle simulator. The crew capsule traveled to an altitude of 703 m (2,307 ft) under active thrust vector control before descending safely by parachute to a soft landing 500 m (1,630 ft) downrange.[34]

In April 2015, Blue Origin announced its intent to begin autonomous test flights of New Shepard in 2015 as frequently as monthly. Blue Origin expected "a series of dozens of flights over the extent of the test program [taking] a couple of years to complete."[16]

On 29 April 2015, New Shepard made its first test flight. The uncrewed vehicle flew to its planned test altitude of more than 93.5 km (307,000 ft) and achieved a top speed of Mach 3.[12] The crew capsule separated from the booster before returning to Earth for a landing under parachutes.

On 23 November 2015, New Shepard made its second test flight, reaching 100.5 km (330,000 ft) altitude with successful recovery of both crew capsule and booster.[35][36] The booster successfully performed a powered vertical landing.[36]

On January 22, 2016 Blue Origin re-flew the same New Shepard booster that launched and landed vertically in November 2015, demonstrating reuse. This time, New Shepard reached an apogee of 333,582 feet (101.7 kilometers) before both capsule and booster returned to Earth for recovery and reuse.[37]

Orbital space systems[edit]

Blue Origin's orbital Space Vehicle in-flight rendering

After beginning development of an orbital system prior to 2012, Blue announced their new orbital launch vehicle in September 2015.[18]

Orbital launch vehicle[edit]

Revealed in 2015, the Blue Origin orbital launch vehicle is a two-stage-to-orbit liquid-propellant rocket.[18] The launcher is intended to be reusable.[38] In January 2016, Blue announced that they plan to announce details about the launch vehicle later in 2016.[39] The first stage is to be powered by Blue Origin's BE-4 single-shaft oxygen-rich staged combustion[40] liquid methane/liquid oxygen rocket engine while the second stage will be powered by the recently qualified BE-3 tap-off cycle liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen rocket engine. The number of engines powering each stage has not been released, nor has the payload or gross launch weight specifications.[18] Only the high-level details were publicly released as of September 2015.

Blue intends to launch the rocket from the historic Launch Complex 36, and manufacture the rockets at a new facility on nearby land in Exploration Park. Acceptance testing of the BE-4 engines will also be done in Florida.[38]

Orbital subsystems and earlier development work[edit]

Blue Origin began developing systems for orbital human spacecraft prior to 2012. A reusable first-stage booster was projected to fly a suborbital trajectory, taking off vertically like the booster stage of a conventional multistage rocket. Following stage separation, the upper stage would continue to propel astronauts to orbit while the first-stage booster would 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.[29]

The booster rocket was projected to 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.[29]

Blue Origin successfully completed a System Requirements Review (SRR) of its orbital Space Vehicle in May 2012.[41]

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).[42]

Test flights[edit]

Date Vehicle Notes
Mar 5, 2005 Charon[25] Reached altitude of 96.3 m
Nov 13, 2006 Goddard[43] First rocket-powered test flight
Mar 22, 2007 Goddard[44]
Apr 19, 2007 Goddard[45]
May 6, 2011 PM2[46]
Aug 24, 2011 PM2[47] Failure, loss of vehicle
Oct 19, 2012 New Shepard capsule[34] Pad escape test flight
Apr 29, 2015 New Shepard[48] Successful Sub-orbital spaceflight, capsule recovered, booster lost
Nov 23, 2015 New Shepard[49] Successful sub-orbital flight and landing
Jan 22, 2016 New Shepard[50] Successful sub-orbital flight and landing of a reused booster

Rocket engine development[edit]


Main article: BE-3

Blue publicly announced the development of the Blue Engine 3, or BE-3, in January 2013, but the engine had begun development in the early 2010s. BE-3 is a new liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen (LH2/LOX) cryogenic engine that can produce 110,000 pounds-force (490 kN) 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.[51]

Early thrust chamber testing began at NASA Stennis[52] in 2013.[53]

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."[51] NASA has released a video of the test.[53] 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."[51][54]

BE-3 engine acceptance testing was completed by April 2015 with "450 test firings of the engine and a cumulative run time of more than 500 minutes." The BE-3 engine powers the New Shepard space capsule that is being used for Blue Origin suborbital flights that began in 2015.[16]


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.[7]


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.[55]

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 in 2011.[15][55]

ULA expects the first flight of the new launch vehicle—the Vulcan—no earlier than 2019.[55]

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.[56][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.[34]

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[57][58] under the first Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program for development of concepts and technologies to support future human spaceflight operations.[59][60] 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.[57] 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.[61] On November 8, 2010, it was announced that Blue had completed all milestones under its CCDev Space Act Agreement.[62]

In April 2011, Blue Origin received a commitment from NASA for $22 million of funding under the CCDev phase 2 program.[63] 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.[64]

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.[65] Blue Origin had earlier attempted to lease a different part of the Space Coast, when they submitted a bid in 2013 to lease Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center—on land to the north of, and adjacent to, Cape Canaveral AFS—following NASA's decision to lease the unused complex out as part of a bid to reduce annual operation and maintenance costs. The Blue bid was for shared and non-exclusive use of the LC39A complex such that the launchpad was to have been able to interface with multiple vehicles, and costs for using the launch pad were to have been shared across multiple companies over the term of the lease. One potential shared user in the Blue Origin notional plan was United Launch Alliance. A competing bid for commercial use of the LC39A launch complex was submitted by SpaceX, which submitted a bid for exclusive use of the launch complex to support their crewed missions.[66]

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."[67] 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."[67] SpaceX said that they would be willing to support a multi-user arrangement for pad 39A.[68] In December 2013, the GAO denied the Blue Origin protest and sided with NASA, which argued that the solicitation contained no preference on the use of the facility as either multi-use or single-use. "The [solicitation] document merely [asked] bidders to explain their reasons for selecting one approach instead of the other and how they would manage the facility."[69] 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.[70]

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

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