Bezos debuts new Blue Origins base, rocket

‘VERY BIG BROTHER’::The company is developing a partially reusable rocket that is to launch and land vertically on voyages to take travelers and cargo into space


Thu, Sep 17, 2015 - Page 7 founder Jeff Bezos is shipping his space business to Florida.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Bezos announced that his Blue Origin space company is to build rockets and launch them into orbit from Cape Canaveral.

He plans to send up satellites first, then people — including space tourists and even himself. He predicts the first launch will occur by the end of the decade, but he declined to be more specific, saying more details would be forthcoming next year.

The as-yet-unnamed rocket is to launch and land vertically, the same method the company is testing for suborbital flights from remote West Texas. The first-stage boosters are to be reusable to save money. The crew capsules are to fly themselves and not require pilots.

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 36 is to serve as home base for Blue Origin’s orbital program. It has been idle for the past decade following a rich history of space flights for NASA.

The Washington state-based company — extremely hush-hush regarding most of its work — is the latest to set up shop at the US’ rocket-launching hub. Just weeks ago, Boeing unveiled its new hub for the future Starliner fleet that is intended to transport astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA beginning in 2017.

On a makeshift stage under a huge tent, Bezos told the VIP crowd of more than 100 that they were seated at the future site of the Blue Origin rocket processing facility. He pointed to where an engine test-firing stand is to be located 1,219.2m away and, 609.6m in another direction, the new launch pad. The actual rockets are to be built at a nearby location just outside the gates of Kennedy Space Center.

“What is going to lift off from Launch Pad 36? Well, I want to give you a little sneak peek. Here it is: the new orbital vehicle,” he said, pulling a black cloth off a tall drawing of Blue Origins’ future rocket.

“One day — I don’t know how long this will take — but one day I look forward to having a press conference with you guys in space,” Bezos said to applause.

Blue Origin has conducted one test flight of its suborbital rocket, back in April. It reached 93.573.6m, just shy of space. Bezos anticipates another test this year. The system is named New Shepard, a nod to the first American in space, the late Alan Shepard.

For now, Blue Origin is calling its future orbital rocket “Very Big Brother.” The engine that is to be used to power the company’s orbital rocket already has an outside buyer: United Launch Alliance, which currently relies on Russian-made engines and wants a US-made product for its future Vulcan line.

Blue Origin is already collecting e-mails from prospective customers for a suborbital ride on New Shepard. Bezos has yet to set a price tag or a time line.

His goal is to put millions of people into space, with ultimate destinations of Mars and elsewhere. He calls it “a worthy challenge” that will not be easy or quick.

Indeed, California-based SpaceX — another private aerospace company founded by a billionaire — remains grounded following a launch explosion in June. NASA is its biggest customer, buying supply runs to the International Space Station and eventual taxi flights for astronauts.