Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos has unveiled the name and look of the company’s future rocket, which will be capable of launching payloads — and people — into orbit around Earth. The rocket is named the New Glenn, after John Glenn — the first US astronaut to orbit the Earth. And if the animations of the New Glenn are to be believed, the rocket is going to be a behemoth, bigger than both SpaceX’s future Falcon Heavy rocket and the United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy. And of course, the rocket will sport Blue Origin's signature feather insignia.
The New Glenn will also incorporate reusability
Also continuing with the recent industry trend, the New Glenn will incorporate reusability, according to an email update from Bezos. The first stage of the rocket will be able to land post-launch, similar to how Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle lands after a flight. However, the New Shepard is only capable of going to sub-orbital space, so it’s not traveling as fast or as high as a rocket going to orbit. Landing an orbital rocket post-launch will put Blue Origin in a whole new ball game.
And it looks like there will be a lot of rocket to land. The New Glenn will be 23 feet in diameter and range between 270 and 313 feet high. That height depends on if there is one upper stage or two on top of the rocket. With just one upper stage, the rocket will be able to send satellites and people into lower Earth orbit (LEO). But with two upper stages, the New Glenn is capable of taking payloads beyond LEO.
The main portion of the rocket will be powered by seven BE-4s, an engine that Blue Origin is currently developing. It’s the same engine that the company hopes to sell to the United Launch Alliance to power the future Vulcan rocket. Combined, the BE-4s should provide 3.85 million pounds of thrust, according to Bezos. That's more thrust than the 2 million pounds the Delta IV Heavy is capable of, and slightly less than the 5 million pounds SpaceX's Falcon Heavy can pull off.
For now, though, all we have is a picture of what the New Glenn will look like. The rocket will eventually be built at Blue Origin’s future manufacturing facility, which is currently being constructed at Cape Canaveral Florida. Then, the plan is to fly to the New Glenn "before the end of this decade," according to Bezos. The vehicle will launch from Launch Complex 36, a site at the Cape that Blue Origin leases from aerospace development agency Space Florida.
It’s an ambitious project for Blue Origin, though it’s not the only one in the works. Bezos teased another project in the works called the New Armstrong, but noted that was "a story for the future." Given the name, the Moon may be somehow involved with that plan.
But in the meantime, the successful development of an orbital rocket will elevate Blue Origin to a different type of company within the space industry. Right now, the company is really only involved in space tourism and sub-orbital research for NASA. With the New Glenn, the company can start offering a ride to space for satellite operators, along with companies and researchers looking to go beyond Earth orbit. That could make Blue Origin a major spaceflight player, on par with SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance.