Spaceflight Insider

Blue Origin reveals New Glenn launch vehicle plans

Jeff Bezos

Image Credit: Blue Origin

In a recent e-mail, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos unveiled more details about the company’s family of future orbital launch vehicles, named New Glenn. The new vehicles include two-stage and three-stage versions with a first stage producing 3.85 million pounds (17.1 million newtons) of thrust. The orbital vehicles are named for the first American astronaut to reach orbit – John Glenn.

Building big

The new rockets are big. New Glenn is 23 feet (7 meters) in diameter. That will make it just 4.6 feet (1.4 meters) narrower than the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage.

The two-stage version will be 270 feet (82.3 meters) tall while the three-stage variant will be 313 feet (95.4 meters) tall – just 50 feet (15.2 meters) short of the Apollo-era Saturn V rocket and 8 feet (2.4 meters) short of the Block 1 SLS’ height.

Like SpaceX, Blue Origin will be using its own engines for both the first and upper stages. Both vehicles will use the same first stage design, which will be comprised of seven BE-4 engines, and a common second stage using a vacuum-optimized BE-4.

“These are the same BE-4 engines that will power United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket,” Bezos said in the email.

The first and second stages will use liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen propellants. The third stage, meanwhile, will consume liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. A vacuum-optimized BE-3 engine (currently powering New Shepard) will power the third stage of the largest variant.

What comes next

Blue Origin did not reveal any payload figures for New Glenn. However, it will generate just over half the thrust of the Saturn V and 75 percent of the thrust of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. This puts it squarely into the super heavy-lift category of launch vehicles.

Bezos said the vehicle is designed to support commercial satellite launches as well as human spaceflight. The three-stage version, according to the e-mail, is capable of flying “demanding beyond-LEO (low-Earth orbit) missions.”

Building on its experience building and testing the reusable New Shepard vehicle, Blue Origin’s New Glenn series of vehicles will include a reusable first stage that lands vertically. The plan is to fly New Glenn by the end of 2020.

Bezos’ long-term vision, like the New Glenn rockets, operates on a large scale.

“Our vision is millions of people living and working in space, and New Glenn is a very important step,” Bezos said. “It won’t be the last of course. Up next on our drawing board: New Armstrong. But that’s a story for the future.”

Blue Origin's New Glenn launch vehicles compared to past and current rockets. Image Credit: Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch vehicles compared to past and current rockets. Image Credit: Blue Origin




Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.

Reader Comments

also the SLS can be modified to be reusable like the Falcon 9 and the New Glenn

No, it can’t. It’s never been designed to do any of that. Even the main engines have been “de-reusable-ized”.

Forget RS-25 reuse, they aren’t even restartable.

So—if Blue Origin names its new big Earth orbit booster after John Glenn, and the lunar orbit version after Neil Armstrong , who will they name their big ocean landing barge after… Bull Halsey ? David Farragut ?

I’m going with former Naval officer Robert Heinlein , the seminal sci-fi author. Or better yet the name of one of his books, like ” The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress”. It’s better than Elon’s ” Of Course I Still Love You”. ( I forget what his other landing barge is named… )

Hi Dewey,
The other ASDS is called: “Just Read the Instructions.”
Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, SpaceFlight Insider

What about “New OCISLY”? 😀

Why not 🙂

You have to be really careful with rockets containing a large quantity of liquid cryogenic fuels like methane, which are gaseous at normal temperature and pressure. If there is a large leak which doesn’t immediately catch fire, the liquid fuel will go back to its normal gaseous state. As it is vaporizing from liquid to a gas, it is mixing with the oxygen in the air. This mixture often forms an explosive cloud. If that cloud reaches any ignition source, it can explode with tremendous force, generating a very powerful blast wave. That is how a fuel/air bomb works. A small charge disperses a flammable vapor which is ignited after it mixes with air. The over pressure kills everyone in, or near the blast.
So large rockets using a cryogenic first stage will need a large clear zone once the methane loading begins. A failure on, or near the launch pad could cause a massive amount of damage for miles around the pad. Planners should consider that potential hazard in locating the launch pad and support buildings. Better safe than sorry, and possibly out of business.
There is a video on YouTube of a tanker of LNG or propane on a Chinese highway, which leaks, and then blows up. And that is only a tank truck full. Imagine if hundreds of those sprung a leak which spread out on the ground for a few hundred feet, and then the cloud blew up. I wouldn’t want to be within 5 miles of that explosion. It might break windows up to 15 miles away.

Isn’t the mixture only explosive within a fairly narrow range of ratios?

Correct for methane. It will explode if the mixture is between 5% and 15% methane and air. Some other chemicals have very wide ratios. Acetylene leaks, and finds an ignition source near the leak, and it’s going to blow up. I found that out the hard way when I tried to see if an oxy/acetylene torch would burn under water. It went out when I dunked it because it still uses some oxygen in the air for combustion. As I immediately tried to relight the flame with a spark lighter there was a violent explosion of the unburned fuel mixture in the wash tub I was using. It was as loud as a pistol shot. It was so rapid that I did not see any flame. Luckily, I wasn’t injured, but learned the danger of acetylene.
As far as a spill of LNG, remember that is a liquid. As a liquid any significant spill is like a big gasoline spill in that it can spread out a long way before hitting an ignition source. Under just the wrong conditions, that could cause quite an explosion covering a large area. The Florida coast is windy, and a cryogenic spill will boil off fairly quickly, releasing a lot of fuel as it changes back to a gas. That might form a big explosive cloud. You know how Murphy’s Law works. Like what happened to that SpaceX rocket that just blew up while it wasn’t even running? Murphy’s Law, that’s what happened.

What more danger is things called BLEVE (Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapor Explosion). Essentially when flammable liquid is leaking and boil the rest of the fuel and the overpressure would be beating the pressure release system and ruptured causing a burning fuel and explosion everywhere.

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