Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Blue Origin to Launch from Florida

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos reveals an artist’s concept of the company’s new orbital launcher to be manufactured and launched in Florida. Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s founder, Jeff Bezos, announced Tuesday that his company has selected Cape Canaveral, Florida, as the launch site of his firm’s new orbital launch vehicle. The announcement confirmed what several officials involved with the industry have been saying for some time – the Cape is now a multi-user spaceport. Blue Origin will share Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 36 with Google Lunar X PRIZE team Moon Express (MoonEx). MoonEx will utilize the “A” portion of SLC-36, and Blue Origin will utilize the “B” side for various aspects of the company’s operations, from testing to launching.

Bezos detailed how the Washington-based aerospace company will carry out many of its operations from SLC-36B. That includes the testing of the BE-3 and BE-4 rocket engines, as well as launching the new booster that Bezos has unveiled.

"We’ll be launching from here later this decade. You will hear us before you see us. Our American-made BE-4 engine – the power behind our orbital launch vehicle – will be acceptance tested here. Our BE-4 engine will also help make history as it powers the first flight of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket," Bezos said.

At present, the booster has the humorous nickname (within the company) of “Very Big Brother”. Similarly, rival aerospace firm SpaceX took to naming their rocket “Falcon” after the Millennium Falcon of Star Wars fame and their spacecraft “Dragon” for Puff the Magic Dragon (after detractors deemed the company’s offerings to be something based on fantasy). Bezos has stated that this is not the rocket’s permanent name and that something new will be released soon. He also suggested that the rocket could be used to send satellites and crews aloft as well.

While initial flights will carry satellites and robotic payloads, Bezos’ long-term vision is for human missions. The company is already working on a suborbital launcher and crew capsule named the New Shepard at a test site in West Texas.

Ballistic flights for the New Shepard space tourism program will continue to be staged from Bezos’ West Texas ranch.

“The first orbital flights will be payloads, and then the human orbital flights will come after that,” Bezos said in a roundtable with hand-picked reporters after Tuesday’s announcement. “That allows for more testing to be done with payloads before you start putting humans on the vehicle.”

State and local government officials celebrated the long-rumored decision to locate Blue Origin launches in Florida.

“Companies like Blue Origin are at the forefront of new space technologies that will expand opportunities for all Florida families, not only to go to space but also to have a great job,” said Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

“Congratulations to Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin on this accomplishment and for investing in Florida’s continued leadership role in space exploration," said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). "This is a great day for our nation’s space program, for Florida’s space coast, for our state as a whole, and we’re proud to welcome native Floridian Jeff Bezos home to launch us into the future like this.”

Florida lost out to Texas last year to become the home of a dedicated commercial launch pad owned by SpaceX, whose founder Elon Musk held a ceremonial groundbreaking at a site near Brownsville, Texas, a year ago this month.

Bezos said his company plans to erect a “21st century production facility” at Exploration Park, “where we’ll focus on manufacturing our reusable fleet of orbital launchers and readying them for flight again and again.”

The rocket plant will be the first such factory at Cape Canaveral. SpaceX builds its rockets at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, and the Atlas and Delta rockets from United Launch Alliance come from a manufacturing facility in Decatur, Alabama.

“What you’ve seen here traditionally is stacking and refurbishment,” Bezos said. “What we’re talking about is not just assembly, but also some pretty deep manufacturing as well.”

Groundbreaking on the construction projects will begin “very soon,” Bezos said.

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