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When will Blue Origin's "New Glenn" rocket complete its first successful test flight?
Along with SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, and others, Blue Origin is vying for a place in the booming commercial space business. The company, founded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, is built around two main rocket technologies: the New Shepard and New Glenn rockets.
New Glenn is a more ambitious project. As envisioned, the rocket will use seven BE-4 engines, producing around twice the thrust of any other rocket in operation. New Glenn will have the capability to deliver up to 45 tons of cargo to low earth orbit or up to 13 tons to a geostationary orbit. Although Bezos' rockets are named after Mercury Seven astronauts, he's more likely looking at a different NASA program for inspiration, since the full three-stage New Glenn rocket will stand nearly as tall as Apollo's Saturn V.
In addition to the New Glenn rocket, BE-4 engines will be installed in United Launch Alliance's next-generation Atlas rocket, replacing the Russian-made engines that currently power the Atlas — the long-time workhorse of commercial cargo delivery. ULA calls the new rocket "Vulcan" and anticipates a 2019 maiden flight.
In short, New Glenn will be more powerful than any current rocket and will be able to go much farther. Maybe, as Bezos seems to tease, all the way to the moon? Projected launch dates are typically strongly optimistic, and Bezos' current estimate of New Glenn's first flight is before 2020.
But first, the rocket needs to be thoroughly proven out and put into service. BE-4 testing is ongoing, and in May 2017 test engines suffered a mishap, losing a piece of hardware during a test fire. Such setbacks are not uncommon in developing a new engine - but they eat up time.
And there is competition. Although New Glenn would be the most powerful rocket if it were flying today, SpaceX is developing their Falcon Heavy rocket and NASA is working on its Space Launch System — both of which would carry more cargo than New Glenn.
When will New Glenn successfully complete its first flight?
This question will resolve as positive when a New Glenn rocket successfully launches and soft-lands in a way that allows the rocket to be re-used.
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