Anyone who knows Jeff Bezos is most famous for having founded Amazon.com, the big online department store that has changed the face of retailing. However, one of his other enterprises is called Blue Origin, a commercial space company. For the past several years, Blue Origin has been testing prototypes of a spacecraft that will eventually take paying customers and payloads on suborbital jaunts from a test facility near Van Horn, Texas.
According to a recent story in Reuters, Blue Origin announced that a crucial part of that spacecraft, the rocket engine, has been completed. The engine, called the BA-3, will be attached to the prototype spacecraft, called New Shepard, which will begin test flights, according to company officials, “Soon.” The plan is to test the vehicle unpiloted dozens of times before it flies with a crew. It will fly to an altitude of 100 kilometers, judged by most to be the edge of space, before landing.
Blue Origin thus joins Virgin Galactic and XCOR in proposing to sell tickets for suborbital jaunts. The New Shepard will be capable of taking three people or a combination of crew and passengers. Unlike the Virgin Galactic and XCOR spacecraft, which will take off and land like airplanes, New Shepard will take off and land vertically.
Eventually, Blue Origin proposes to compete with bigger commercial space firms, such as SpaceX, with an orbital version of New Shepard. For that purpose, it is developing a larger rocket engine, the BA-4, in partnership with United Launch Alliance. An orbital version of New Shepard had been in the running for NASA’s commercial crew program, but was eventually passed over. Blue Origin has vowed to continue developing the spacecraft on its own dime, facing the ultimate innovation challenge of helping to create a brand new industry.