Jeff Bezos blew into Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to announce formally Blue Origin’s launch and production facilities, with a standing-room-only contingent of government, industry and civic officials on hand to cheer the $200 million-plus project.
The much-anticipated plans by the Bezos-founded rocket company are expected to create 330 jobs in Florida’s Space Coast region.
During the next five years, Blue Origin will construct a manufacturing and processing facility in the Cape’s Exploration Park, with groundbreaking set for early next year. For launches, it has settled on the Cape’s recently inactive Launch Complex 36, site of dozens of previous space launches dating from 1965.
Launch-service rivals SpaceX and United Launch Alliance also have launch facilities at the Cape and elsewhere. During his Sept. 15 visit, Bezos underscored Blue Origin’s commitment to the site.
“One of the unique things about our Florida operations is that we aren’t just launching here, we’re building here,” the billionaire entrepreneur said. “At Exploration Park, we’ll have a 21st century production facility, where we’ll focus on manufacturing our reusable fleet of orbital launchers and readying them for flight again and again. Locating vehicle assembly near our launch site eases the challenge of processing and transporting really big rockets.
“We’ll be launching from here later this decade,” the Amazon.com founder added. “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.”
Headquartered in Kent, Wash., Blue Origin was founded in 2000 but to date has released only select news about its R&D. Initially emphasizing suborbital space-tourist launches, its rocket-engine development has produced more buzz of late.
Though no detailed contract has been signed, ULA plans to incorporate Blue Origin’s BE-3 engine into a next-gen version of its Vulcan launch system.
On Sept. 10, the companies announced “an agreement to expand production capabilities for the American-made BE-4 engine that will power the Vulcan next-generation launch system.”
Timing of that news was interesting, as it came one day after reports ULA was about to be sold to Aerojet Rocketdyne — which also wants to sell an engine to ULA for the Vulcan.
“The BE-4 engine test program is well under way, with more than 60 staged-combustion tests already on the books,” Bezos said in the earlier announcement. “This new agreement is an important step toward building BE-4s at the production rate needed for the Vulcan launch vehicle.”
As for those long-promised space-tourist operations, a Blue Origin video circulating last April showed a test flight in western Texas of its suborbital New Shepard launch vehicle. It carried an unmanned capsule 58 miles high to the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere. The capsule landed safely, but an attempt to land a reusable booster rocket failed.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott topped a bevy of state and local dignitaries on hand for the the Exploration Park press conference, and Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Rick Rubio issued a statement of congrats.
“Congratulations to Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin on this accomplishment and for investing in Florida’s continued leadership role in space exploration,” Rubio said.
Bezos showed those on hand at the Cape — in a presentation also carried on NASA TV — a photo of an orbital launch vehicle that Blue Origin plans to make eventually. The orbital vehicle would launch vertically and feature a reusable booster rocket, he said.
Details of Blue Origin’s planned missions and their timing — and a better understanding of the company’s competitive posture in the commercial space sector — should emerge in the weeks and months ahead. For the day, it was a time to tout both the historic legacy and future prospects of the Cape Canaveral space station.
Said Bezos: “Residents of the Space Coast have enjoyed front-row seats to the future for nearly 60 years. Our team’s passion for pioneering is the perfect fit for a community dedicated to forging new frontiers. Keep watching.”
Photo: Blue Origin