After losing launch competition, Blue Origin delays New Glenn rocket’s first flight until late 2022

Alan Boyle
·3 min read
New Glenn
An artist’s conception shows the New Glenn rocket on its launch pad. (Blue Origin Illustration)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture says it’s targeting the fourth quarter of 2022 for the first flight of its orbital-class New Glenn rocket — which marks a major schedule shift.

The company had previously planned to conduct its first New Glenn launch from Florida by the end of this year, although it was becoming increasingly clear that timeline wouldn’t hold.

In a blog posting, Blue Origin said its team “has been in contact with all of our customers to ensure this baseline meets their launch needs.”

Blue Origin noted that the updated timeline follows the U.S. Space Force to stop its support for the New Glenn development effort as part of its procurement program for national security launches. That support, which could have added up to $500 million, was closed out at the end of last year.

The Space Force ended up choosing United Launch Alliance and SpaceX for the next round of national security launches. Jarrett Jones, Blue Origin’s senior vice president for New Glenn, told Space News that losing out on that round of launch contracts represented a $3 billion hit to anticipated revenue, and forced the company to “re-baseline” its development plans.

In its online posting, Blue Origin said that “New Glenn is proceeding to fulfill its current commercial contracts, pursue a large and growing commercial market, and enter into new civil space launch contracts.”

“We hope to launch NSSL [National Security Space Launch] payloads in the future, and remain committed to serving the U.S. national defense mission,” it said.

Bezos has said he sells $1 billion in Amazon stock every year to invest in Blue Origin, with most of that money going toward New Glenn. Today, Blue Origin said more than $2.5 billion has been invested in New Glenn facilities and infrastructure, including $1 billion for rebuilding Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Recent milestones include completing a New Glenn first-stage mockup simulator, building a structural test facility and meeting hardware milestones for tanks, stage modules and composite fairings, Blue Origin said. “In addition to program progress, more than 600 jobs have been created in the region,” it said.

Blue Origin, which is headquartered in Kent, Wash., released a series of videos recapping its progress on New Glenn in Florida:

One of the key components for New Glenn is Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine, which is fueled by liquefied natural gas and slated to power the rocket’s first-stage booster. That engine is in the latter stages of its testing program, with production ramping up at Blue Origin’s engine factory in Alabama.

The BE-4 is also destined for use on United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket, and ULA says the Vulcan is still on track for its first launch in 2021.

New Glenn is just one of the projects underway at Blue Origin, which Bezos founded a little more than 20 years ago. The New Shepard suborbital spaceship has been undergoing uncrewed test flights in Texas, and Blue Origin’s current plan calls for passengers to start getting on board this year.

Meanwhile, Blue Origin is leading an effort to develop a landing system that could be used to put astronauts on the surface of the moon for NASA’s Artemis program. Blue Origin’s team — which also includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper — is competing with SpaceX and Dynetics for continued NASA funding. One or two companies could win NASA’s go-ahead by late April.

Update for 11:35 a.m. PT Feb. 25: We’ve added comments from Blue Origin executive Jarrett Jones’ interview with Space News.

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