It’s been a rather busy past few days in the rocket industry. In the aftermath of the SpaceX Falcon 9 explosion, it looks like rival Blue Origin — the aerospace company owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos — is prepped to make some moves of its own, unveiling the name and look of the company’s future rocket: the New Glenn.
The New Glenn, named after John Glenn — the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth — will come in two varieties: 2-stage and 3-stage, and what separates the two are their use. The 2-stage possesses one upper stage, which allows the rocket to send satellites and people into lower Earth orbit (LEO), while the 3-stage possess two upper stages, thus allowing it to take payloads beyond LEO.
Outside of that, they both are largely the same rocket. With a diameter of 23 feet (about half the length of a school bus) and a height ranging from 270 to 313 feet, they completely eclipse SpaceX’s upcoming Falcon Heavy rocket and the United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy. Similarly, they are both powered by seven BE-4s, which put out about 3.85 million pounds of thrust when combined. For comparison, the Delta IV Heavy puts out two million pounds of thrust, while the SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy puts out five million pounds of thrust.
While the size, thrust and usage certainly make for interesting points of discussion, the real point of interest of the New Glenn is that it will focus on reusability — a growing trend in the aerospace industry. The first stage of each rocket will be able to land post-launch — easily saving Blue Origin millions, since rocket boosters are normally trashed in the ocean and never used again.
This process is reminiscent of what Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket is capable of doing (and actually has done four times now), but what separates the two are the circumstances under which these landings occur. As mentioned before, the New Glenn is designed for LEO/post-LEO travel, however, the New Shepard is only capable of going into sub-orbital space — meaning that it is going nowhere as fast or as high as the New Glenn. With that in mind, it’s unclear if the New Glenn has the right stuff to pull it all off.
However, if it does, the feat would be a major game-changer for Blue Origin. Currently, the aerospace company is only predominantly involved in space tourism and sub-orbital research for NASA. However, the successful development of a (reusable) orbital rocket would propel Blue Origin into a new stratum within the space industry. It would be able to offer rides to space for satellite operators, as well as companies and researchers looking to go beyond Earth’s orbit —putting it in the same league as the United Launch Alliance and Space X, the latter of which is in the process of making its rockets fully reusable.
This, however, is counting chickens before they hatch, for Blue Origin has the most important task still ahead of it — building the New Glenn. For now, the rocket merely exists as a drawing, with Bezos planning to have it both built and launched “before the end of this decade.”
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