The newest model in the Jeff Bezos rocket line now has a name: the New Glenn.
The New Glenn rocket is meant to be reusable: after taking off and reaching space, it can return to Earth and land vertically on its boosters. It builds off the New Shepherd rocket and capsule, which launched and landed for the first time in November 2015.
New Glenn – named for John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth – is meant to take astronauts into orbit and beyond. It will come in a two-stage and a three-stage variant, both of which will have recoverable boosters.
“New Glenn is designed to launch commercial satellites and to fly humans into space,” wrote Jeff Bezos in a statement. “The 3-stage variant – with its high specific impulse hydrogen upper stage – is capable of flying demanding beyond-LEO [low Earth orbit] missions.”
The rocket will be 7 metres in diameter and range between 82 and 95 metres tall. That makes it physically larger than any current rockets and nearly as big as the Saturn V rocket that brought humans to the moon.
To lift all that, New Glenn will have 17 million Newtons of thrust from seven engines, about half the lifting power of the Saturn V rocket that took astronauts to the moon. That makes it competitive but not the biggest among the planned heavy lift rockets. NASA’s Space Launch System will have 37 million Newtons of thrust, and SpaceX’s Flacon Heavy will have 22 million.
None of these heavy lifters have flown yet, however. Bezos says he plans to launch the New Glenn rocket by the end of the decade, and hinted at an even bigger rocket to come, called New Armstrong.
“Our vision is millions of people living and working in space, and New Glenn is a very important step. It won’t be the last of course,” Bezos wrote. “Up next on our drawing board: New Armstrong. But that’s a story for the future.”
Reusable rockets should reduce the cost of space flight, and both Blue Origin and SpaceX have successfully demonstrated that their rockets can re-land. SpaceX is still investigating an explosion during a test flight before a Falcon 9 launch on 1 September, and it’s not yet known how that will affect its launch schedule or its plans for the Falcon Heavy.
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