Blue Origin to Build, Test, Launch from Cape Canaveral

Blue Origin to Build, Test, Launch from Cape Canaveral

Blue Origin has selected Florida as the location for its manufacturing, engine testing and launch facilities for a new orbital rocket. The company will use Launch Complex 36 (LC-36) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) as its base of operations for the reusable rocket whose first launch will take place by the end of this decade.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos was joined by nine federal, state and local political, government and business dignitaries to make the announcement this morning on a stage set up for the event at LC-36.  Bezos said that very spot would become a vehicle processing facility, with an engine test stand for the BE-4 engine 4,000 feet in one direction, and a new launch pad 36 2,000 feet in the other direction.

Space Florida President Frank DiBello (at podium), Florida Governor Rick Scott (first seat on left), Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos (next to Scott)
and other dignitaries at September 15, 2015 ceremony announcing Blue Origin’s choice of Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex-36 (LC-36)
as manufacturing, engine testing and launch site for new orbital Blue Origin rocket. The event took place at LC-36.  Screenshot from NASA TV.

LC-36 was used for 145 launches over 43 years, but the last one took place in 2005.  The “pad has stood silent for more than 10 years — too long.  We can’t wait to fix that,” Bezos exclaimed.

Red circle marks LC-36 on this map from the Air Force Space & Missile Museum website.

Florida Governor Rick Scott (R), Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli (R-Brevard County) were among the politicians on stage.  All three had gathered at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, adjacent to CCAFS, just 11 days ago to announce Boeing’s opening of a processing facility for its CST-100 Starliner commercial crew capsule. 

The Boeing and Blue Origin announcements mean jobs for Florida’s Space Coast, which took a beating after the space shuttle and Constellation programs were terminated. Bezos himself was not specific about the economic implications of his decision, but Scott said Blue Origin is investing $200 million locally and creating 330 jobs.

Bezos did not reveal many details about the new rocket, promising more information next year.  Among the missing information is the rocket’s name and what it will launch, although the assumption is that space tourism is one market.   Blue Origin is already building the smaller New Shepard rocket for suborbital human spaceflight.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos shows illustration of new orbital rocket that will launch from Launch Complex 36
at Cape Canaveral, FL.  Screenshot from September 15, 2015 event broadcast on NASA TV.

Today, Bezos said only that it will have a fully reusable booster stage, will
launch and land vertically, and use the company’s BE-3 and BE-4
engines.  The BE-4 will be the first commercial rocket engine to use liquefied natural gas (methane) and liquid
oxygen (LOX) as propellant.  United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Blue Origin are partnering to use the BE-4 for ULA’s new Vulcan rocket, a deal they confirmed last week amid media reports that Aerojet Rocketdyne wants to purchase ULA and use its AR1 engine instead.  The AR1 is a conventionally-powered LOX/kerosene engine.

Co-locating the manufacturing, engine testing and launch facilities “eases the challenge of processing and transporting really big rockets,” Bezos explained.  Because acceptance testing of the BE-4 engine will take place there, “you will hear us before you see us,” he added, and launches will begin “later this decade.”

Nelson left the event after he spoke, explaining that he had to catch a plane to Washington to, among other things, continue working to get the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act finalized.  He was hopeful it would clear Congress “in the next few weeks.”   The House and Senate have each passed versions of the bill, but they are different so a compromise is needed.   One similarity, Nelson said, is that both would streamline the permitting process for commercial companies that want to use Air Force installations like Cape Canaveral.

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