Blue Origin has revealed the first assembled engine that will power the spaceflight company's next-generation megarocket.
On Monday (March 6), Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos posted on Twitter two photos of the first completed BE-4 engine, the heart of the company's big New Glenn orbital launcher.
"1st BE-4 engine fully assembled. 2nd and 3rd following close behind," Bezos, who is also the billionaire founder of Amazon.com, wrote in one tweet.
The BE-4, which burns liquid oxygen and liquid methane, will get New Glenn off the ground. Seven of the engines will power the rocket's first stage, and its second stage will use one BE-4. Blue Origin is also working on a three-stage New Glenn variant, whose upper stage will incorporate one BE-3, the engine that powers the company's New Shepard suborbital flight system.
New Glenn's first stage will fly back to Earth for a soft touchdown, in keeping with Bezos' plan to develop and employ reusable rockets. Both Bezos and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk say that such technology will slash the cost of spaceflight, helping to open up deep-space locales to exploration. (New Glenn's upper stages will be disposable.)
The two-stage New Glenn variant will be capable of lofting about 50 tons (45 metric tons) to low Earth orbit and 14 tons (13 metric tons) to geostationary transfer orbit, Bezos said Tuesday (March 7) at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington, D.C.
Testing on the BE-4 will begin soon, and the engine should be ready for flight by 2019, Blue Origin representatives have said. New Glenn — which takes its name from the late astronaut John Glenn, who in February 1962 became the first American to orbit Earth — will make its debut launch in 2020, if everything goes according to plan, Bezos has said.
Blue Origin has already lined up two customers for New Glenn; both France-based Eutelsat and U.S.-based OneWeb have agreed to launch satellites aboard the rocket, Bezos announced this week.
The BE-4 will also be used by the Vulcan rocket, which is being developed by United Launch Alliance, a joint effort of Lockheed Martin and Boeing.