Blue Origin; Company Profile, vehicles and net worth

Blue Origin; Company Profile, vehicles and net worth

Blue Origin Enterprises, L.P. commonly referred to as Blue Origin is an American aerospace manufacturer, defense contractor, launch service provider and space Technologies Company headquartered in Kent, Washington, United States. The company makes rocket engines for United Launch Alliance (ULA)’s Vulcan rocket and manufactures their own rockets, spacecraft, satellites, and heavy-lift launch vehicles. The company is the second provider of lunar lander services for NASA’s Artemis program and was awarded a $3.4 billion contract. The company has four rocket engines in production including the BE-3U, BE-3PM, BE-4 and the BE-7.

The company demonstrated rocket booster reusability with their New Shepard Rocket Program, and received the Robert J. Collier Trophy in 2016. The honor is given to individuals who have made “the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year.” It is administered by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) of the United States.

Blue Origin Logo
Trade name Blue Origin
Company type Limited partnership
Industry Aerospace and launch service provider
Founded September 8, 2000; 23 years ago
Founder Jeff Bezos
Headquarters Kent, Washington, United States
Number of locations 10 (5 production facilities & 5 field offices)
Area served United States of America
Key people Dave Limp (CEO)
Products Spacecrafts, rockets, heavy-lift launch vehicles and lunar growth technology
Revenue 596.4 Million
Owner Jeff Bezos
Number of employees 11,000 (2023)
Subsidiaries
  • Blue Origin, LLC
  • Blue Origin Alabama, LLC
  • Blue Origin Federation, LLC
  • Blue Origin Florida, LLC
  • Blue Origin International, LLC
  • Blue Origin Management, LLC
  • Blue Origin Texas, LLC
  • Honeybee Robotics, LLC
ASN 55244
Website blueorigin.com

 

History of Blue Origin

Blue Origin was founded in 2000 by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon. Rob Meyerson joined the company in 2003 and served as the CEO before leaving the company in 2018. Bob Smith served as CEO from 2018 to 2023. The current CEO is Dave Limp. Little is known about the company’s activities in its early years. In 2006, the company purchased land for its New Shepard missions 30 miles North of Van Horn, Texas, United States called Launch Site One (LS1). In November 2006, the first test vehicle was launched, the Goddard rocket, which reached an altitude of 285 feet.

After initiating the development of an orbital rocket system prior to 2012, and stating in 2013 on their website that the first stage would perform a powered vertical landing and be reusable, the company publicly announced their orbital launch vehicle intentions in September 2015. In January 2016, the company indicated that the new rocket would be many times larger than New Shepard. The company publicly released the high-level design of the vehicle and announced its name in September 2016 as “New Glenn”. The New Glenn heavy-lift launch vehicle can be configured in both two-stage and three-stage variants. New Glenn is planned to launch in Q3 of 2024.

On July 20, 2021, New Shepard performed its first crewed mission to sub-orbital space called Blue Origin NS-16. The flight lasted approximately 10 minutes and crossed the Kármán line. The passengers were Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, Wally Funk, and Oliver Daemen, after the unnamed auction winner (later revealed to have been Justin Sun) dropped out due to a scheduling conflict. Subsequent New Shepard passenger and cargo missions were: Blue Origin NS-17, Blue Origin NS-18, Blue Origin NS-19, Blue Origin NS-20, Blue Origin NS-21 and Blue Origin NS-23.

The company primarily employs an incremental approach from sub-orbital to orbital flight, with each developmental step building on its prior work. The company moved into the orbital spaceflight technology development business in 2014, initially as a rocket engine supplier via a contractual agreement to build the BE-4 rocket engine, for major US launch system operator United Launch Alliance (ULA). United Launch Alliance (ULA) had the first flight of its Vulcan Centaur heavy-lift launch vehicle on 8th January 2024. The heavy-lift launch vehicles main power is supported by two BE-4 engines. On June 7, 2023, United Launch Alliance (ULA) performed a Flight Readiness Firing of the Vulcan Centaur rocket at launch pad 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, United States. The two BE-4 rocket engines worked as expected just as it flew successfully on their first launch.

Blue Origin Launch vehicles

New Shepard

New Shepard is a fully reusable suborbital launch vehicle developed for space tourism. The vehicle is named after Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut in space. The vehicle is capable of vertical takeoff and landings and can carry humans and customer payloads to the edge of space.

The New Shepard launch vehicle is a rocket that consists of a booster rocket and a crew capsule. The capsule can be configured to house up to six passengers, cargo, or a combination of both. The booster rocket is powered by one BE-3PM engine, which sends the capsule to an apogee (Sub-Orbital) of 100.5 kilometres (62.4 mi) and flies above the Kármán line, where passengers and cargo can experience a few minutes of weightlessness before the capsule returns to Earth.

The launch vehicle is designed to be fully reusable, with the capsule returning to Earth via three parachutes and a solid rocket motor. The booster lands vertically on the same launchpad it took off from. The company has successfully launched and landed the New Shepard launch vehicle 22 times with 1 partial failure deemed successful and 1 failure. The launch vehicle has a length of 15.0 metres (49.2 ft), a diameter of 3.7 metres (12 ft) and a launch mass of 75 short tons (150,000 lb; 68,000 kg). The BE-3PM engine produces 490 kN of thrust at takeoff. New Shepard allows the company to significantly reduce the cost of space tourism, making the experience more accessible to the general public.

New Glenn

New Glenn is a heavy-lift launch vehicle in development stage, and is expected to be ready for Launch in Q3 of 2024. The launch date has been set back because of numerous delays. Named after NASA astronaut John Glenn, design work on the vehicle began in early 2012. Illustrations of the vehicle, and the high-level specifications, were initially publicly unveiled in September 2016. The rocket will have a diameter of 7 meters (23 ft), and its first stage will be powered by seven BE-4 engines. The 7 meter-diameter fairing is claimed to have twice the payload volume of “any commercial launch system” and to be the biggest payload fairing in the world.

New Glenn Rocket in launch position
New Glenn Rocket in launch position

Like the New Shepard, New Glenn’s first stage is also designed to be reusable. In 2021, the company initiated conceptual design work on approaches to potentially make the second stage reusable as well, with the project codenamed “Project Jarvis”.

NASA announced on February 9, 2023, that it had selected the New Glenn heavy-lift launch vehicle for the launch of two Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (ESCAPADE) spacecraft. The New Glenn heavy-lift launch vehicle will launch ESCAPADE in Q3 of 2024 with the ESCAPADE spacecrafts entering Mars’s orbit approximately one year after its launch.

In 2024, Blue Origin received funding from the USSF to assess New Glenn’s ability to launch national security payloads.

Blue Moon

In May 2019, Jeff Bezos announced plans for a crew-carrying lunar lander known as Blue Moon. The standard version of the lander is intended to transport 3.6 t (7,900 lb) to the lunar surface, whereas a stretched tank variant could land up to 6.5 t (14,000 lb) on the Moon, both are vehicles designed to make a soft landing on the Moon’s surface.

The lander will use the BE-7 hydrolox engine. On May 19, 2023 NASA contracted Blue Origin to develop, test and deploy its Blue Moon landing system for the agency’s Artemis V mission, which explores the Moon and prepares future manned missions to Mars. The project includes an unmanned test mission followed by a manned Moon landing in 2029. The contract value is $3.4 billion.

Rocket engines

BE-1

Blue Origin’s first engine was a “simple, single-propellant engine” called the Blue Engine-1 (BE-1) which used peroxide propellant and generated only 8.9 kN (2,000 lbf) of thrust.

BE-2

The Blue Engine-2 (BE-2) which was a bipropellant engine using kerosene and peroxide, producing 140 kN (31,000 lbf) thrust.

BE-3 (BE-3U and BE-3PM)

The BE-3 is a family of rocket engines made by Blue Origin with two variants, the BE-3U and BE-3PM. The rocket engine is a liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen (LH2/LOX) cryogenic engine that can produce 490 kN (110,000 lbf) and 710 kN (160,000 lbf) of thrust, respectively. Early thrust chamber testing began at NASA Stennis in 2013. By late 2013, the BE-3 had been successfully tested on a full-duration sub-orbital burn, with simulated coast phases and engine relights, “demonstrating deep throttle, full power, long-duration and reliable restart all in a single-test sequence.” NASA has released a video of the test. As of December 2013, the engine had demonstrated more than 160 starts and 9,100 seconds (2.5 h) of operation at the company’s test facility near Van Horn, Texas.

  • The BE-3U is an open expander cycle variant of the BE-3. Two of these engines will be used to power the New Glenn heavy-lift launch vehicle’s second stage. The amount of thrust the BE-3U produces is 710 kilonewtons (160,000 lbf).
  • The BE-3PM, uses a pump-fed engine design, with a combustion tap-off cycle to take a small amount of combustion gases from the main combustion chamber to power the engine’s turbopumps. One engine is used to power the Propulsive Module (PM) of New Shepard. The amount of thrust the BE-3PM produces is 490 kilonewtons (110,000 lbf). The rocket engine can be throttled down to as low as 110 kN (25,000 lbf) for use in controlled vertical landings.

BE-4

The BE-4 is a liquid oxygen/liquified natural gas (LOX/LNG) rocket engine that can produce 2,400 kN (550,000 lbf) of thrust.

Blue Origin BE-4
Blue Origin BE-4

In late 2014, the company signed an agreement with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to develop the BE-4 engine, for ULA’s upgraded Atlas V and Vulcan Centaur rockets replacing the RD-180 Russian-made rocket engine. The newly developed heavy-lift launch vehicle will use two of the 2,400 kN (550,000 lbf) BE-4 engines on each first stage. The engine development program for the BE-4 began in 2011.

On October 31, 2022, a Twitter post by the official Blue Origin account announced that the first two BE-4 engines had been delivered to ULA and were in the process of being integrated on a Vulcan rocket. In a later tweet, ULA CEO Tory Bruno said that one of the engines had already been installed on the booster, and that the other would be joining it momentarily. On June 7, 2023, the two BE-4 rocket engines performed as expected when ULA performed a Flight Readiness Firing of the Vulcan Rocket at launch pad 41 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Vulcan Centaur launched for the first time on January 8, 2024, successfully carrying Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine lunar lander, the first mission on NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program using the BE-4 engine.

BE-7

The BE-7 engine is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen dual expander cycle engine currently under development, designed for use on Blue Moon. The engine produces 44 kN (10,000 lbf) of thrust. Its first ignition tests were performed in June 2019, with thrust chamber assembly testing continuing through 2023.

Pusher escape motor

The company partnered with Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop a pusher launch escape system for the New Shepard suborbital crew capsule. Aerojet Rocketdyne provides the Crew Capsule Escape Solid Rocket Motor (CCE SRM) while the thrust vector control system that steers the capsule during an abort is designed and manufactured by Blue Origin.

Blue Origin’s Facilities and Locations

The company has facilities across the United States which include five main locations and five field offices:

  • Kent, Washington (headquarters)
  • Van Horn, Texas
  • Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida
  • Huntsville, Alabama
  • Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama
  • Arlington, Virginia
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Washington, DC

The company’s headquarters is in Kent, Washington. Rocket development takes place at its headquarters. The company has continued to expand its Seattle-area offices and rocket production facilities since 2016, purchasing an adjacent 11,000 m2 (120,000 sq ft)-building. In 2017, the company filed permits to build a new 21,900 m2 (236,000 sq ft) warehouse complex and an additional 9,560 m2 (102,900 sq ft) of office space. The company established a new headquarters and R&D facility, called the O’Neill Building on June 6, 2020.

Launch Site One (LSO)

Corn Ranch, commonly referred to as Launch Site One (LSO) is the company’s launch site 30 miles north of Van Horn, Texas. The launch facility is located at 31.422927°N 104.757152°W.

In addition to the sub-orbital launch pad, Launch Site One (LSO) includes a number of rocket engine test stands and engine test cells are at the site to support the hydrolox, methalox and storable propellant engines that are used. There are three test cells for testing the BE-3 and BE-4 engines. The test cells support full-thrust and full-duration burns, and one supports short-duration, high-pressure preburner tests.

Blue Engine

Engine production is located in Huntsville, Alabama, at a 600,000sqft facility called, “Blue Engine”. The company’s website states that, “The world-class engine manufacturing facility in The Rocket City conduct[s] high rate production of the BE-4 and BE-3U engines.

The company is planning a third major expansion in Huntsville and the company was approved for the sale of 14.83 acres adjacent to its already sprawling campus at the price of $1.427 million.

Orbital Launch Site (OLS)

The Orbital Launch Site (OLS) at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, develops rockets and does extensive testing. The company converted Launch Complex 36 (LC-36) to launch its New Glenn into orbit at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The facility was initially completed in 2020 and is being used for the construction of New Glenn prototypes, rocket testing, and designs.

The company’s facility is situated on 306 acres of land assembled from former Launch Complexes 11, 36A, and 36B. The land parcel used to build a rocket engine test stand for the BE-4 engine, a launch mount, called the Orbital Launch Site, (hence its name) and a reusable booster refurbishment facility for the New Glenn launch vehicle, which is expected to land on a drone ship and return to Port Canaveral for refurbishment. Manufacturing of “large elements, such as New Glenn’s first and second stages as well as the payload fairings and other large components will be made nearby in Exploration Park, which is near the entrance to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Merritt Island, Florida.

Other projects

Orbital Reef (commercial space station)

The company and its partners Sierra Space, Boeing, Redwire Space and Genesis Engineering Solutions won a $130 million award to jump-start the design of their Orbital Reef commercial space station. The project is envisioned as an expandable business park, with Boeing’s Starliner and Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser transporting passengers to and from low Earth orbit (LEO) for tourism, research and in-space manufacturing projects.

Nuclear rocket program

NASA plans to test spacecraft, engines and other propellent systems powered by nuclear fission no later than 2027 as part of the agency’s effort to demonstrate more efficient methods of traveling through outer space for space exploration. One benefit to using nuclear fission as a propellent for spacecraft is that nuclear-based systems can have less mass than solar cells which means a spacecraft could be much smaller while absorbing and using the same amount of energy more efficiently. Nuclear fission concepts that can power both life support and propulsion systems could greatly reduce the cost and flight time during space exploration.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin contracts to fund and build nuclear spacecraft under the agency’s Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations program or DRACO program. The company was awarded $2.9 million to develop spacecraft component designs.

In partnership with Blue Origin, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp., GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, GE Research, Framatome and Materion, USNC-Tech won a $5 million contract from NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to develop a long range nuclear propulsion system called the Power Adjusted Demonstration Mars Engine, or PADME.

Space Technology

NASA awarded $35 million to the company in 2023 for the company’s work on lunar regrowth to be used for solar powered systems on the moon. The company’s website states that “Blue Alchemist is a proposed end-to-end, scalable, autonomous, and commercial solution that produces solar cells from lunar regolith, which is the dust and crushed rock abundant on the surface of the Moon. Based on a process called molten regolith electrolysis, the breakthrough would bootstrap unlimited electricity and power transmission cables anywhere on the surface of the Moon. This process also produces oxygen as a useful byproduct for propulsion and life support.”

Gary Lai, chief architect of the New Shepard rocket said during the pathfinder awards at the Seattle Museum of Flight that [The company] “aims to be the first company that harvests natural resources from the moon to use here on Earth,” He also mentioned that the company is building a novel approach to extract outer space’s vast resources.

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