Blue Origin submitted an application last year to get funding from the U.S. Air Force for its new orbital-class rockets. The company will go up against United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK and SpaceX. The proposal also prepares the New Glenn rocket to be certified by the U.S. Air Force for national security missions.
United Launch Alliance received funding in an earlier phase of the Air Force’s effort to assist companies in developing liquid-fueled booster engines in an effort to stop the military’s dependence on the Russian RD-180 power plant that drives the first stage of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket. A percentage of the funding given to ULA in 2016 was intended to go to the BE-4 engine. The Air Force will give funding to 2 launch providers in late 2019.
According to Blue Origin, they have used private funds and ULA’s support to fund the development of the BE-4 engine. Blue Origin is working on the New Glenn rocket using funding from Bezos’s Amazon.com fortune. The company said that the New Glenn rocket could be ready for the first test flight by the end of 2020. The satellite launcher will have 2 versions – a 3-stage launcher designed for deep space missions and a 2-stage configuration built for most satellite delivery missions. Both versions will use the same recyclable first stage booster with 7 BE-4 engines that burn a combination of liquid oxygen as well as liquified natural gas. The first stage will generate 3.85 million pounds of thrust with all 7 engines at full throttle and then separate a few minutes after takeoff to return to Earth.
The second stage of the New Glenn rocket originally meant to have one BE-4U, a restartable vacuum-rated variety of the BE-4 engine. However, Blue Origin has altered the design and the second stage of the satellite launcher will instead use 2 BE-3U engines, an improved variety of the BE-3 engine that uses hydrogen and flies on Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard booster. With this new design, the company will only need to develop 2 kinds of engines for the rocket. The New Glenn’s 2-stage version will satisfy all launch requirements set by the Air Force. It can lift the approved payload mass to different orbits stated by the Air Force’s procurement documents. The third stage of the satellite launcher’s deep space configuration will be powered by a BE-3U engine as well.