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Blue Origin announces Florida facility where it will build and launch rockets

Blue Origin

This morning, private spaceflight company Blue Origin unveiled its new facility at Cape Canaveral, Florida, where it plans to build and launch rockets. Blue Origin is moving into Launch Complex 36, a spaceport that was once used to launch Atlas rockets for NASA and the United States Air Force. NASA's Mariner missions — the first robotic spacecraft to visit other planets — launched from the facility as well. Now, after a decade of inactivity, the complex will be revamped and renamed Exploration Park.

"LC36 has stood silent for more than 10 years — too long," said Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Blue Origin, at a press event this morning. "We can’t wait to fix that." Bezos said the company hopes to launch people from Exploration Park later this decade. He also announced plans to build a new orbital rocket at the facility, which he noted will use the company's upcoming BE-4 engine. The new facility has some economic benefits, as well; Florida Governor Rick Scott said the new facility will help to invest $200 million locally and create 330 new jobs.

Bezos said the company plans to launch people from Exploration Park later this decade

Currently, Blue Origin's flagship rocket is the New Shepard, a suborbital launch system designed to carry up to three people into space. The vehicle is comprised of two main parts: a booster rocket and a pressurized crew capsule. The booster contains Blue Origin's BE-3 rocket engine, which will propel the crew capsule to the edge of space. After spending four to five minutes in zero G, the capsule will fall back to Earth and land gently with the help of parachutes. Blue Origin demonstrated New Shepard's capabilities during the vehicle's first uncrewed test launch in April.

New Shepard was designed to be a fully reusable rocket system, meaning the entire vehicle will be saved after each mission and used again for followup launches. This hasn’t worked out yet, however; Blue Origin failed to recover the booster rocket after New Shepard's first test flight, because the spacecraft lost pressure in its hydraulic system during the descent.

September is shaping up to be a big month for commercial spaceflight. The Blue Origin announcement comes less than two weeks after Boeing unveiled its newest spacecraft-building facility, also at Cape Canaveral.

An Atlas-Centaur launch vehicle prepares for takeoff from LC36 in 1972. (NASA)