Blue Origin’s ‘Very Big Brother’ heralds firm’s operations at SLC-36B
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — Blue Origin’s founder, Jeff Bezos, announced today that his company has selected Cape Canaveral as the launch site of his firm’s new orbital launch vehicle. The announcement was made on Tuesday, Sept. 15, and confirmed what several officials involved with the industry have been saying for some time – the Cape is now a multi-user spaceport.
Blue Origin will share Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 36 with Google Lunar X PRIZE team Moon Express (MoonEx). MoonEx will utilize the “A” portion of SLC-36, and Blue Origin will use the “B” side for various aspects of the company’s operations, from testing to launching.
Bezos detailed how the Washington-based aerospace company will carry out many of its operations from SLC-36B. That includes the testing of the BE-3 and BE-4 rocket engines, as well as launching the new booster that Bezos unveiled today.
At present, the booster has the humorous nickname (within the company) of “Very Big Brother”. Similarly, rival aerospace firm SpaceX took to naming their rocket “Falcon” after the Millennium Falcon of Star Wars fame and their spacecraft “Dragon” for Puff the Magic Dragon (after detractors deemed the company’s offerings to be something based on fantasy). Bezos has stated that this is not the rocket’s permanent name and that something new will be released soon. He also suggested that the rocket could be used to send satellites and crews aloft as well.
Bezos described “Very Big Brother” (VBB) as being a VTVL system – vertical takeoff, vertical landing. Blue Origin has knowledge and experience with this type of system, gained from their New Shepard program. The rocket’s lower stage is planned to be reusable with the upper stage being expendable. VBB will be powered by the liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen BE-3 rocket, engine, as well as the liquid oxygen/liquid natural gas BE-4 engine, which Bezos described as being able to provide some 550,000 lbf (2.45 MN) of thrust.
Bezos, perhaps best known as the founder of the online media store Amazon, has expanded his Blue Origin aerospace company from not only offering suborbital tourist access to space but also to orbital boosters and rocket engines – including the BE-3 and BE-4. Theses engines have caught the eye of launch service provider United Launch Alliance (ULA). The BE-4 is being considered for use on the first stage of the firm’s new Vulcan Next Generation Launch System booster. With the BE-3 being considered for the rocket’s Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES) upper stage.
During his remarks, Bezos noted that SLC-36 has an extensive launch history, with numerous missions having taken to Florida’s skies between 1962 and 2004.
“Our new home on the Space Coast is anchored by the launch site at Complex 36. During its 43 years of service, 145 launches thundered into space from this site. The Mariner missions – the first U.S. spacecraft to visit other planets – lifted off from Complex 36. So did Pioneer 10, the first spacecraft to travel through the asteroid belt; Surveyor 1, the first U.S. spacecraft to land softly on the Moon; and multiple weather, communications, and national defense payloads hopped their rides to space from LC-36. The site saw its last launch in 2005 and the pad has stood silent for more than 10 years – too long. We can’t wait to fix that,” Bezos said.
His statements garnered the NewSpace entrepreneur with a standing ovation. The billionaire’s announcement also drew high praise from the State’s chief elected official.
“This is an exciting day for space exploration… their base of operations is going to be in the great State of Florida, not in the other 50 states, but in the great State of Florida,” said Florida’s Governor Rick Scott during a question and answer session held after the presentation. “They’re going to add 330 new jobs… and on top of that, they’re going to invest $200 million into this community.”
When asked when Bezos thought that the site would be ready, his response was, “Before the end of the decade.”
“This was a competitive process; we went into detailed negotiations with five different states, and we chose Florida for various reasons. One of those is it is geographically advantageous for launch; another is there is a great pool of talent here to hire from,” Bezos said. “We want to build our vehicles here, and transporting them around the country isn’t logical… there’s really no better place to launch space vehicles from – than the Space Coast.”
Bezos noted that while much of his company’s operations might move to Florida, he still plans on having their New Shepard launch system lift off from West Texas.
“Blue Origin is a great company, and they’ve developed an amazing vehicle; they’re going to be a major player in commercial space flight; they’re going to be a major player in aerospace, in general,” Florida Senator Thad Altman (R-Rockledge) told SpaceFlight Insider. “For them to select Brevard County (where the Space Coast is located) is huge for us, and I think it’s going to be huge for them too. To design, build and launch rockets – there’s no better place for them to be than right here, where it all began, at Kennedy Space Center.”
Altman went on to note that he thought the number of launch service providers located on the Space Coast was likely to grow. The view that today’s events were precipitous was echoed by another official in attendance, one who has already ridden rockets to orbit – twice.
“It’s very, very exciting what’s happening here today, it’s testimony of, not only the diversification of what we’re doing here at Cape Canaveral and Kennedy Space Center, but it’s also showing the continuing leadership in space exploration efforts of the State of Florida,” former shuttle astronaut, U.S. Navy Captain and current Florida Institute of Technology representative Winston Scott told SpaceFlight Insider. “What’s happening here today has its origins many, many years ago when people with the State of Florida began courting the private, commercial companies – and we see that coming to fruition now.”
Wednesday’s event included several presenters who, besides, Scott and Bezos, included U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla), the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives Steve Crisafulli, the Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Development Jesse Panuccia, the Director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Robert Cabana, the Vice Commander of the 14th Air Force, Brigadier General Steven Garland, the Commissioner of District 1, Brevard County Robin Fisher, the President and CEO of the Florida Power & Light Company Eric Silagy, and Space Florida’s President and CEO Frank DiBello – who served as the event’s emcee.
Video courtesy of NASA
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.