Blue Origin’s biggest rocket launch yet just got delayed – here’s what it means

Blue Origin will remain a space tourism company for some time to come. On Tuesday, the company’s senior vice president for the next New Glenn rocket, Jarrett Jones, confirmed that the rocket’s first launch would not take place this year. The comments, reported by CNBC reporter Michael Sheetz via Twitterwere made at the Satellite 2022 trade convention, held in Washington, DC from March 22-24.

The setback means that Blue Origin’s heavy rocket will have to wait a bit longer before carrying its first payload into orbit. That means a less diverse spaceflight industry, the benefits of which became clear this week – UK satellite developer OneWeb was able to switch launch providers earlier this week amid the war in Ukraine, the space agency Russian Roscosmos to SpaceX following a dispute.

It also means the company founded by Jeff Bezos will have to stick with its existing New Shepard launches for 2022, the smallest rocket used to send a passenger capsule on multi-minute suborbital flights.

It’s the latest in a series of delays for the rocket, first unveiled in 2016 with the aim of sending crew and cargo much further into orbit. During its unveiling, the company claimed that it plans to launch before the end of the decade.

In February 2021, the launch was pushed back from late 2021 to late 2022. At the time, the company claimed the delay was due to missing on key Pentagon launch contracts with SpaceX and United Launch Alliance. Later that year, Blue Origin began a legal battle over NASA’s decision to use SpaceX to provide a lander for its crewed lunar mission — a decision that NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said could have delayed the mission.

The latest comments around New Glenn even suggest that the revised deadline won’t happen. For now, Bezos and the team will have to stick to his suborbital flights which began in 2021. These smaller flights reach an altitude of just over 62 miles – away from the International Space Station, which SpaceX and Roscosmos launch for on a regular basis, which orbits at an altitude of about 250 miles.

There was, however, good news for the BE-4 engine planned for the New Glenn rocket. This engine, developed by United Launch Alliance, undergoes intensive testing at Blue Origin about three times a week.

United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno said the company expects to take delivery of the first flight-ready engines mid-year. He added that the engine is “running great”.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, who made the first crewed suborbital flight in 2021.Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

What is New Glen?

The New Glenn is a reusable rocket designed to lift 45 metric tons (99,208 pounds) into low Earth orbit, destinations like the ISS. It can also lift 13 metric tons (28,660 pounds) to a much higher geostationary transfer orbit.

This means the rocket compares favorably to SpaceX’s Falcon family of rockets. The Falcon 9 can lift over 50,000 pounds in low Earth orbit, while the three-core Falcon Heavy variant can lift nearly 150,000 pounds in the same orbit.

New Glenn will lift off from Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral, Florida. After launch, the booster is expected to land on a moving ship similar to the Falcon 9. The first stage is designed to support up to 25 flights.

The booster, which contains seven BE-4 engines, generates nearly four million pounds of thrust at sea level.

Bezos will likely be crossing his fingers that New Glenn can launch soon – his long-term vision hinges on a thriving space industry.

This vision, outlined in a 2019 speech, would see humanity build giant space stations, floating in Earth’s orbit, acting like man-made cities. This would allow humanity to eventually expand to a population of one trillion people.

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