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NASA and Blue Origin partner up for new rocket engine tests

Jeff Bezos' rocket company will upgrade a disused NASA testing facility to fire up two new engines.


Bezos: Super space nerd

Blue Origin

It was once the proving ground for the rocket engines that lifted American astronauts to the moon for the first time, but now Test Stand 4670 at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center will have a new tenant: Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

The two companies have signed an agreement that will provide Blue Origin access to the historic test stand and strengthen growth in the commercial space sector, NASA announced Wednesday.

Under the agreement, Blue Origin will begin to upgrade the test stand in Huntsville, Alabama, originally built in 1965. The facility was critical in developing the Saturn V propulsion system, the only heavy lift launch vehicle that has carried humans beyond low Earth orbit (LEO) and helped set up the space laboratory Skylab in the 1970s. It was subsequently used to test elements of the space shuttle system that carried astronauts to LEO.

It hasn't been used for rocket engine testing since 1998.

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Blue Origin is currently developing two rocket engines, dubbed BE-3U and BE-4. The engines are planned to be used in Blue Origin's New Glenn launch vehicle, a two-stage reusable rocket set to rival SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, enabling Blue Origin to send payloads to orbit. The company has already attracted several customers looking to launch telecommunications satellites into geostationary transfer orbit.

"Through this agreement, we'll provide for the refurbishment, restoration and modernization of this piece of American history – and bring the sounds of rocket engines firing back to Huntsville," said Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin, in a press release.

Blue Origin successfully got their New Shephard launch vehicle off the ground in 2018 and have been targeting a 2020 launch for New Glenn. Its rockets continue to undergo testing at Blue Origin's West Texas testing facility but whether or not the heavy lift vehicle finds itself in orbit by that time is still up in the air.