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February 28, 2013

Blue Origin's Quiet Progress

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor


While media attention was focused on Inspiration Mars and its plans to send two people on a 501-day journey around Mars, low-profile spacecraft company, Blue Origin, continued to make progress on its plans to launch rockets and people into space.

Blue Origin, owned by Amazon.com (News - Alert) founder Jeff Bezos, filed its support for Florida efforts to create a state-run launch complex on NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC) territory. The company said it is "keenly interested in conducting orbital launch operations" at a proposed facility along the northern border of KSC, reports Florida Today.

Space Florida, the state's organization to foster aerospace economic development activities, is seeking around 150 acres in the former citrus community of Shiloh for a launch facility dedicated to non-government missions outside of KSC and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The facility would support one or two pads for launches and should provide more flexibility for commercial operations at potentially lower cost. 

"We view the proposed Shiloh facility as an opportunity to build the type of dedicated commercial facility that will enable the expansion of American commercial spaceflight," the company said in filed comments made in response to a Florida request for information (RFI (News - Alert)). "Blue Origin is eager to support Space Florida in developing the Shiloh site for this purpose."

Blue Origin is working on a range of vehicles, including a vertical-takeoff/vertical suborbital craft for short hop microgravity flights for tourists and microgravity experiments and a larger seven-person capsule and rocket for travel to low Earth orbit (LEO).  

The organization received R&D money from NASA in the early rounds of the agency's commercial crew program, but didn't apply for the last one.

In NASA's latest Commercial Crew Progress report on February 27, the agency announced it signed an unfunded Space Act Agreement with Blue Origin to extend its commercial crew work in an unfunded capacity. Blue Origin will continue its work to mature the subsystems of its LEO space capsule with NASA "in the loop" to provide feedback. 

Later this year, Blue Origin will test fire its liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen BE-3 engine, a 100,000-pound thrust monster that will go into a reusable first stage designed to land vertically for recovery on an ocean barge. 

The company will also brief NASA this winter on progress it has made designing, manufacturing and assembling a subscale propellant tank.

It’s a good thing that Blue Origin has signed an unfunded Space Act agreement, since the federal government sequester is threatening funding to Boeing (News - Alert), Sierra Nevada, and SpaceX to move forward with developing commercial manned space systems to deliver astronauts to the International Space Station.




Edited by Braden Becker



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