Blue Origin has refined the timing for the premiere of its New Glenn rocket, a towering vehicle now slated to launch from Florida in late 2022.
The roughly one-year delay to the timeline means New Glenn, the 313-foot centerpiece in Blue Origin's ambitions to build a "road to space," will fly from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in the fourth quarter of 2022. The company so far has invested more than $1 billion to rebuild Launch Complex 36, which was first used in the 1960s to launch Atlas-Centaur rockets.
"As major progress is being made on the New Glenn launch vehicle and its Cape Canaveral facilities, the schedule has been refined to match the demand of Blue Origin’s commercial customers," Blue Origin said Thursday.
The new timeline, Blue said, comes after the Space Force last year opted not to select New Glenn for the lucrative batch of national defense spacecraft contracts known as National Security Space Launch Phase 2. The branch instead selected SpaceX and United Launch Alliance.
"We hope to launch NSSL payloads in the future, and remain committed to serving the U.S. national defense mission," the company said, adding that it will focus on its commercial customers in the meantime.
The company had originally planned to debut the rocket in 2020, but then pushed to 2021 due to a variety of factors including the coronavirus pandemic.
Scott Henderson, orbital launch site director for Blue Origin, told FLORIDA TODAY he's confident in the updated schedule for the heavy-lift rocket named after John Glenn, the third American in space and first to orbit Earth.
"I form my impression based on what I see as I walk the factory floor and the launch complex," Henderson said. "That progress we're making leads me to believe we've got the right plan in place to be confident we can hit that date."
To date, Blue has constructed over a million square feet of production and fabrication space across two major areas of the Space Coast: its massive factory-campus at Kennedy Space Center's Exploration Park and the pad at LC-36.
Perhaps the most complicated hurdle over the last several years, Henderson said, was making significant progress on the equally massive launch complex just 1,500 feet from the Atlantic Ocean.
"I'm here every day," he said. "I see the infrastructure in place, which was the big lift over the last couple years. The people are trained and certified and starting to build parts. The launch pad, which has been a big undertaking, is now coming to fruition."
So far, workers have completed work on a New Glenn first stage "pathfinder," or mockup used for simulating operations; finished a structural test facility; and met milestones for tanks, stage modules, and fairings that protect spacecraft during launch.
Henderson said the company has hired over 600 employees spread across engineering and tradespeople – and that doesn't include the hundreds of average daily construction workers focusing on the pad, which boasts the tallest water tower in the world.
"We've been good to the construction trade over the last five years. On average, we've had over 500 construction workers between our two sites over the last four years," he said.
Established by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Blue sees LC-36 as "mile marker 0" – complete with a green mile marker sign next to the pad – on the path toward building a road to space. The Seattle-based company ultimately envisions thousands of people living and working in Earth orbit, the moon, and beyond.
"Launch Complex 36 really is the first new launch pad to be built in the last two decades from the ground up," Henderson said. "We've seen a lot of our investment go to building out what I can say is the most modern launch complex out here on the Cape."
Blue is also responsible for New Shepard, a smaller rocket that currently launches missions from Texas and is being refined for tourism-focused human spaceflight. The company also builds large BE-4 engines in Alabama not only for New Glenn, but also United Launch Alliance's upcoming Vulcan Centaur rocket that's slated to fly later this year.
Quelle: Florida Today