Blue Origin reveals its orbital rocket

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The competition heats up: Blue Origin today unveiled the orbital rocket it plans to launch before 2020, dubbed New Glenn.

Named in honor of John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, New Glenn is based around two variants – a two stage and a three stage launch vehicle – and a reusable booster stage. No information has been released as to where the booster stage will land, although it is believed Blue Origin is evaluating the option of an “ocean-going platform,” per planning documentation associated with the launch site. “Building, flying, landing, and re-flying New Shepard has taught us so much about how to design for practical, operable reusability. And New Glenn incorporates all of those learnings,” Mr. Bezos added.

Mr. Bezos added that the two-stage New Glenn is 270 feet tall, and its second stage is powered by a single vacuum-optimized BE-4 engine (the BE-4U). The 3-stage New Glenn is 313 feet tall. A single vacuum-optimized BE-3 engine, burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, powers its third stage. The booster and the second stage are identical in both variants. The three-stage variant – with its high specific impulse hydrogen upper stage – is capable of flying demanding beyond-LEO missions.

The rocket will be quite large and comparable more to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy than its Falcon 9, indicating that the competition is not only forcing companies to lower their prices, it is forcing new designs to be larger and have more capacity.


  • Andrew_W

    I like Rand’s take: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ SLS

    The sooner SLS is killed the better.

  • Frank

    The disruptive competition will be good for SpaceX and the future of spaceflight. Not good for those that rely on government pork and political deals.

    Bring it on.

  • Edward

    New Shepard for their suborbital rocket, now New Glenn for their orbital rocket. I think we can figure out what they will call their moon rocket.

    Unfortunately, I have been unable to find the mass that it can take to LEO and to GEO transfer orbit. Those are the kinds of interesting details that future customers will be interested in.

  • Localfluff

    Maybe it will not take at all as much payload to orbit as a Saturn V although it is as large. Size could be used to make a simpler, cheaper and safer design. Reusability allows for a new design philosophy. It doesn’t necessarily cost more to launch a heavier rocket if it comes back.

  • Alex

    Edward: No masses were published yet by Mr. Bezos, but the launch thrust, which is about 1,750 metric tons. From this value a launch mass between 1,400 and 1,500 metric tons should follow. Mr. Zubrin calculated yesterday a LEO payload of 70 metric tons and of 20 tons to Mars (3 stage version). My guess for the payload to LEO is smaller (in range of 50 tons) due to effects of first stage reuse.

  • Alex

    Localfluff: I agree, it could be that first stage of New Glenn is built much more robust as that from Falcon 9.

  • D K Rögnvald Williams

    Seems like many players are wanting to get into the heavy launch business. Is there sufficient demand?

  • Edward

    D K Rögnvald Williams,
    If the price to get into space drops enough, there may be a tremendous demand to put heavy payloads (astronauts, space stations or habitats, moon missions, planetary probes, etc.) into space, and it looks like SpaceX — and perhaps Blue Origin — will be the major low-cost launch companies.

    On the other hand, there is (finally) a trend toward smaller satellites and a large number of companies planning to launch those smaller satellites on small, inexpensive launchers.

  • Frank

    Jeff Bezos on competing against Musk and other commercial companies:

    “Competition is super healthy…Great industries are never made by single companies. And space is really big. There is room for a lot of winners…At Blue Origin, our biggest opponent is gravity.

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