The last 12 months have been really good to Blue Origin, the space company which made history after it achieved the first controlled landing for a rocket, four weeks before SpaceX's Falcon. While Blue Origin has landed very good contracts this year, particularly with NASA to deploy tech payloads on suborbital flights with the New Shepard launch vehicle, the company's eye has always been on space tourism. Now, it seems that Jeff Bezos has bigger plans after the Blue Origin founder announced a new massive rocket called New Glenn capable of delivering both people and large cargo into space, or right down SpaceX's alley.
Should Elon Musk be worried?
The two-stage 270-foot New Glenn will have 3.85 million pounds of thrust, making it the tallest rocket available on the market today, including SpaceX's Falcon 9 (224 feet). Only the iconic Saturn V rocket (363 feet tall) which put on the moon during the Apollo era is taller, but it has long been discontinued. There's also a larger 3-stage version of New Glenn which will stand at 313 feet tall, signifying Blue Origin means business.
"We plan to fly New Glenn for the first time before the end of this decade from historic Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral, Florida," said Bezos in an email announcement. "New Glenn is designed to launch commercial satellites and to fly humans into space. The 3-stage variant–with its high specific impulse hydrogen upper stage–is capable of flying demanding beyond-LEO missions."
In any event, New Glenn will mark a huge leap for Blue Origin considering its current flagship offering -- the somewhat modest New Shepard rocket which is only 65 foot tall and can only do suborbital flights. New Shepard puts around 70,000 pounds of thrust, after all. What it lacks in thrust, though, it makes up in technology as it can both take off and land vertically.
New Glenn, named in honor of John Glenn who was the first American to orbit the Earth, will reportedly be capable of vertical landing too. This puts it right into SpaceX's Falcon 9 territory which has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to ferry cargo and various supplies to the International Space Station. SpaceX's Dragon capsule, which is launched on the Falcon 9, might be soon used to carry astronauts to the ISS but after the company's most recent launch ended in a fireball, the worst failure in 14 years, nothing is certain anymore.
For the rest of us mortals, New Glenn is good news because more than anything, the space industry needs healthy competition between innovative companies.