Jeff Bezos' little rocket-building side project has some big plans. Real big.
Blue Origin unveiled plans Monday for the follow-up to the company's suborbital New Shepard rocket: The New Glenn rocket booster will be significantly more powerful than any other orbital rocket currently in use and taller, too.
The New Glenn's main rocket booster will be recoverable and capable of landing back on Earth like we've seen with SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets and the New Shepard. That main booster can also be used with a second and even a potential third stage. The rocket is fittingly named for astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.
The three-stage New Glenn is a monster at 313 feet tall, harkening back to the 363-foot Saturn V rockets that powered the Apollo missions to the moon. According to an email sent from Bezos to reporters Monday, the New Glenn will deliver 3.85 million pounds of thrust, compared to the 2.1 million pounds generated by the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, the current champion.
The question is whether Blue Origin will beat SpaceX in the race to launch the first in a new generation of big, powerful rockets. Elon Musk and company have been planning to launch the Falcon Heavy, promising 5 million pounds of thrust, for some time. SpaceX is currently planning half a dozen Heavy launches, but with no specific dates set.
SpaceX and the Falcon Heavy have a considerable head start on Blue Origin and the New Glenn. Bezos indicated his company's lack of immediate urgency to reporters in an email Monday.
"We believe 'slow is smooth and smooth is fast.' In the long run, deliberate and methodical wins the day, and you do things quickest by never skipping steps," Bezos said. "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."
Still, Bezos and Blue Origin have surprised us before. The company stole some headlines from SpaceX with the first successful vertical landing of a rocket immediately after it flew to the edge of space.
Bezos said the New Glenn will be designed to launch commercial satellites and fly humans to space. He also teased Blue Origin's vision of the future looking well beyond just the latest big rocket boosters.
"Our vision is millions of people living and working in space, and New Glenn is a very important step. It won't be the last of course. Up next on our drawing board: New Armstrong. But that's a story for the future."
Oh goody, goody. Sooner or later my Amazon Prime subscription is going to take me to the moon for cheap. I just know it.