Jeff Bezos fires off a blue dart, singes Elon Musk and SpaceX

Blue Origin's new and rather large rocket engine fires on first full test

Blue Origin's BE-4 rocket engine
Blue Origin's BE-4 rocket engine

Amazon supremo Jeff Bezos' rocket company Blue Origin has successfully tested its main engine for the first time.

The BE-4 engine is, as the name suggests, Blue Origin's fourth generation rocket. B-1 was a wee thing that boasted 2,200 pounds of thrust. B-2 hit 31,000 pounds and B-3 reached 110,000.

The BE-4 cranks things up to 550,000 pounds from a single engine. By way of comparison, the Merlin engine used in SpaceX's rockets emit 190,000 pounds of thrust. Which is why SpaceX packs nine of them into a single Falcon 9 rocket.

Blue Origin's New Glenn rockets will put seven BE-4 engines in harness for a total 3.85 million lbs of thrust and a payload of 13 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit or 45 metric tons to low earth orbit. The Falcon 9's payloads to the same spots are 8,300kg and 22,800kg.

Here's the BE-4 in action, during a Friday test that apparently went off without a hitch.

The BE-4's first mission won't be a Blue Origin flight. Instead it's slated to power a Vulcan rocket operated by the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The company currently operates Atlas and Delta rockets, but is betting Blue Origin can power its next-generation Vulcan by 2019.

The test recorded above suggests that schedule isn't unreasonable.

Blue Origin is also working on the BE-4U, a variant of the engine for in-orbit propulsion.

All versions of the engine run a combination of liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas, fuels that are easy to acquire and don't require inert gases to enable pressurisation. They also burn clean, which helps Blue Origin to achieve its goal of quick-and-easy re-use of its first stage rockets. ®

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