All eyes are on SpaceX's Falcon Heavy megarocket ahead of the vehicle's first test flight next week, but another company — Blue Origin — made progress on a giant launcher of its own recently.
Blue Origin, which is run by billionaire Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, successfully conducted another test-fire of the BE-4 rocket engine that will power the company's massive New Glenn rocket, which is slated to lift off for the first time in 2020. [Blue Origin's New Glenn Megarocket in Pictures]
"Latest BE-4 engine test footage where we exceeded our Isp targets. We continue to exercise the deep throttling of our full-scale 550,000-lbf BE-4, the reusability of our hydrostatic pump bearings and our stable start/stop cycles. More to follow from ongoing tests. #BE4 #NewGlenn," Blue Origin representatives said via Twitter on Jan. 8. They did not specify when the test took place.
"Isp" is shorthand for "specific impulse," a standard measure of a rocket engine's efficiency; "lbf" is a reference to the BE-4's thrust.
Blue Origin announced the first successful BE-4 hot-fire test this past October.
New Glenn will come in two- and three-stage versions. The reusable first stage will be powered by seven BE-4s, meaning the booster will generate 3.85 million lbs. of thrust at liftoff, according to Blue Origin representatives. The heavy lifter's second stage will feature one BE-4U, the space-optimized variant of the BE-4.
The three-stage version will tack on one BE-3U engine, the in-space version of the BE-3, which powers Blue Origin's New Shepard suborbital vehicle.
When it's up and running, the two-stage New Glenn will be capable of launching about 50 tons (45,000 kilograms) to low-Earth orbit (LEO), according to Blue Origin officials.
The Falcon Heavy, meanwhile, will have an LEO payload capacity of about 70.5 tons (63,800 kg), SpaceX representatives have said. The Falcon Heavy is scheduled to launch for the first time on Feb. 6, on a shakeout cruise that will also attempt to put a red Tesla Roadster into a long and looping orbit around the sun. (SpaceX CEO Elon Musk also runs the electric-car company Tesla.)
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Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.