Jeff Bezos’ big rocket moves into view and closer to launch

Oliver Daemen, from left, Mark Bezos and Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and space tourism company Blue Origin, look on as Wally Funk, right, describes the experience after their launch from the spaceport near Van Horn, Texas, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION — There’s an easy knock against the space dreams of Jeff Bezos and his rocket company, Blue Origin: In its 24th year of existence, the company has yet to launch a single thing to orbit.

Blue Origin’s accomplishments to date are modest — a small vehicle known as New Shepard that takes space tourists and experiments on brief suborbital jaunts. By contrast, SpaceX, the rocket company started by the other high-profile space billionaire, Elon Musk, today dominates the launch market.


On Wednesday, Blue Origin hoped to change the narrative, holding a coming-out party of sorts for its new big rocket.

In the morning, at Launch Complex 36 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, the doors to a giant garage opened. The rocket, as tall as a 32-story building, lay horizontally on the trusses of a mobile launch platform.

The contraption was cradled on a transport mechanism that resembles several long mechanical centipedes, but with wheels, 288 in all, instead of feet. It began rolling slowly out and up a concrete incline, a quarter-mile trip toward the launchpad.

The rocket will undergo at least a week of tests before returning to the garage.

“I’m very confident there’s going to be a launch this year,” Dave Limp, the CEO of Blue Origin, said in an interview. “We’re going to show a lot of progress this year. I think people are going to see how fast we can move.”

Named New Glenn in honor of John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, the powerful rocket will be capable of lugging about 100,000 pounds into low-Earth orbit. That is a greater lifting capacity than SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets but not as much as the Falcon Heavy.

New Glenn is one of several rockets expected to debut this year, adding to competition for SpaceX. In January, the Vulcan rocket, built by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, made a successful maiden flight. It used two of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engines, proving their design met expectations. The first stage of New Glenn will use seven BE-4s.

Later this year, Ariane 6, a rocket designed by the European Space Agency, is expected to make its first flight, and SpaceX continues work on its gargantuan Starship rocket that is to take NASA astronauts to the surface of the moon.

Carissa Christensen, the CEO of BryceTech, a space consulting company in Alexandria, Virginia, said the wealth of Bezos, founder of Amazon, gave Blue Origin credibility from the start.

“You’ve heard that saying,” she said. “Rockets run on money. And so, the depth of resources available to that company, the commitment of its founder, I think, makes it unique.”

But having the luxury of billions of dollars perhaps meant that Blue Origin did not always move with much urgency, she said. “Maybe that shifts you to a bit of a perfectionist model,” Christensen said.

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