Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company Blue Origin has completed the first nose cone of its future orbital rocket, the New Glenn — and new video of the hardware shows the true enormity of this piece of equipment. With a diameter of 7 meters, or 22 feet, the cavernous nose cone is so giant that it can completely house Blue Origin’s smaller New Shepard rocket.
The nose cone, or payload fairing, is a crucial piece of any rocket heading to space. It sits on top of the vehicle and surrounds whatever payload or satellite the rocket is carrying, acting as a shield during the ascent through the atmosphere. Once in space, the payload fairing breaks away and exposes the satellite so that the payload can be deployed by the rocket.
The size of a rocket’s fairing is also key because it dictates which kinds of satellites can fit on top of a rocket. If the fairing is too small, for instance, larger satellites and modules won’t be able to fly. This limiting factor has led to an industry phrase known as the “tyranny of the fairing,” as the nose cone often prohibits the ability to fly massive payloads into orbit.
Blue Origin, however, is trying to give customers a little more room on the New Glenn rocket that it’s developing. The company claims the nose cone is the “largest contiguous composite fairing ever built” and that it can house 50 percent more volume than its closest competitor, according to a video showing the completed hardware. In the video, tiny Blue Origin employees walk beside the fairing at the company’s factory in Florida, giving a sense of scale for the giant shield. “We have given customers new opportunity to design satellites in a way they haven’t before,” Jarrett Jones, the senior vice president of Blue Origin’s New Glenn program, said in the video.
Once completed, the New Glenn rocket will be massive. The design calls for a rocket with a height of 95 meters, or 313 feet, which would tower over any commercial vehicle available today. Blue Origin claims it will be able to loft up to 45 metric tons, or nearly 100,000 pounds, into low Earth orbit. The company hopes to use New Glenn to launch commercial satellites as well as any hardware NASA might need to get humans back to the Moon. Blue Origin is also eager to have New Glenn launch national security payloads for the US military.
Of course, the company needs to finish the rocket first. When announcing the rocket, Bezos claimed it would fly by 2020, but Blue Origin has since revised that date, saying the rocket will be available to start flying payloads in 2021. So far, the fairing and the main engines of New Glenn are the biggest pieces of completed hardware. Now they just need the rest of the rocket in order to start flying.