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Blue Origin finishes engine work for suborbital spaceship

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Apr 8, 2015, 6:37 UTC

Sen—Blue Origin, a privately owned U.S. company founded by Amazon.com chief executive Jeff Bezos, has finished work on a liquid hydrogen-fueled rocket engine designed to fly its New Shepard spaceship into suborbital space, the company’s president said Tuesday, April 7.

The BE-3 engine is the third in a series of motors developed by Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin. The company is also working on a fourth engine, BE-4, which burns liquefied natural gas, in partnership with United Launch Alliance.

Tests on the BE-4 are on track to begin in 2016, said Blue Origin president Rob Meyerson.

“The BE-3 has now been fired for more than 30,000 seconds over the course of 450 tests,” Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos said in a statement.

“We test, learn, refine and then test again to push our engines. The Blue Origin team did an outstanding job exploring the corners of what the BE-3 can do and soon we’ll put it to the ultimate test of flight,” Bezos said.

In a conference call with reporters, Meyerson said flights will take place from Blue Origin’s west Texas facility beginning later this year.

The BE-3 will be flown on the company’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle, which can carry up to three passengers and/or a mix of passengers and payloads. The rocket will separate from the capsule and land itself so it can be refurbished and reflown. The capsule will parachute back to land separately.

Blue Origin says the BE-3 can be continuously throttled between 110,000 and 20,000 pounds of thrust, a key capability for vertical takeoff and vertical landing vehicles. The engine tests included multiple mission duty cycles, deep throttling and off-nominal test points, the company said in a press release.

“Liquid hydrogen is challenging, deep throttling is challenging and reusability is challenging. This engine has all three. The rewards are highest performance, vertical landing even with a single-engine vehicle and low cost,” Bezos said.

Blue Origin also plans to develop a variant of the BE-3 that can be sold commercially as an upper-stage engine.