Amazon.com billionaire Jeff Bezos announced this week his Blue Origin company is going to build the biggest rocket on Earth and call it the “New Glenn,” continuing his tradition of naming spacecraft after legendary NASA astronauts.
The rocket will be taller than anything now in production, though smaller than NASA’s planned Space Launch System rocket; and more powerful than anything except NASA’s SLS and rival billionaire Elon Musk‘s planned SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
And it places Bezos where he wants to be: in place to compete directly with Musk and the more traditional rocket companies such as United Space Alliance, Orbital ATK, and the European Space Agency for the big, heavy-lift, and deep-space missions envisioned for the 2020s. That includes manned missions, Bezos stated.
Named for retired U.S. Sen. John Glenn of Ohio, the new Blue Origin rocket would launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, probably before the end of this decade, Bezos announced in a news release issued Monday.
“We plan to fly New Glenn for the first time before the end of this decade from historic Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral, Florida,” Bezos stated in the news release.
“New Glenn is designed to launch commercial satellites and to fly humans into space,” he continued. “The 3-stage variant — with its high specific impulse hydrogen upper stage — is capable of flying demanding beyond-LEO [lower-Earth-orbit] missions.”
In the release, there was no word whether the rocket would be built at the new Blue Origin rocket factory now under construction outside Titusville, in Space Florida’s Exploration Park.
Given its size and transportation issues, and given Blue Origin’s statements last year that the company would build future rockets there, the prospects are high.
Bezos and the company are not commenting beyond the news release, a spokesman indicated.
“Our vision is millions of people living and working in space, and New Glenn is a very important step. It won’t be the last, of course. Up next on our drawing board: New Armstrong. But that’s a story for the future,” Bezos stated in the release.
Blue Origin’s current rocket, which is suborbital, is called the New Shepard, named after Alan Shepard, America’s first astronaut. All of its launches thus far have been out of Blue Origin’s private launch site in west Texas.
Glenn was the first American astronaut to go into orbit. Neil Armstrong was the first on the moon.
The New Glenn’s standard, two-stage configuration would make it 270 feet tall. With an optional third stage the rocket extends to 313 feet tall. Its seven engines would produce 3.85 million pound-force of thrust.
The current most powerful rocket in use is United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy, which is 236 feet tall and produces 1.4 million pound-force of thrust. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which had been scheduled for launch as soon as late this year, but no dates have been set, would be more powerful with 5.1 million pound-force of thrust, though it would stand only 230 feet tall.
United Launch Alliance also is planning a new big rocket called the Vulcan, though few details have emerged. It’s not likely to be ready this decade.
The Saturn V, used to send Armstrong to the moon, stood 363 feet tall and produced 7.6 million pound-force of thrust. The SLS, scheduled for use by 2019, would stand as tall as 365 feet in its ultimate configuration, and would be the most powerful rocket ever built, with the potential for 8.8 million pound-force of thrust.