Bezos releases new details about Blue Origin’s Florida facility
In a recent e-mail, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos shared a few more details about the groundbreaking of his company’s new launch vehicle manufacturing facility located at Exploration Park, Kennedy Space Center, in Florida.
In his message, Bezos stated: “The 750,000 square-foot [67,677 square-meter] rocket factory is custom-built from the ground up to accommodate manufacturing, processing, integration, and testing. Among other things, the facility hosts large scale friction stir welding and automated composite processing equipment.”
An article on the TechCrunch website noted that this building approaches the size of SpaceX’s manufacturing facility in Hawthorne, California, which stands at one million square feet (92,900 m2).
James Kuzma, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Space Florida, told Spaceflight Insider that the new plant will bring 330 jobs to Florida at an average salary of $85,000 as well as $200 million capital investment between the manufacturing facility at Exploration Park and the new work being done at Space Launch Complex 36 (SLC-36). The work Blue Origin is doing is also expected to attract a number of second-tier suppliers.
The work being done in Florida will be extensive. Bezos’ e-mail also stated: “All of the vehicle[s] will be manufactured in this facility except for the engines. Initial BE-4 engine production will occur at our Kent [Washington] facility while we conduct a site selection process later this year for a larger engine production facility to accommodate higher production rates.”
The higher production rates will be needed, as Blue Origin plans to use the BE-4 engine for its orbital launch vehicles, as well as the Vulcan rocket it is supporting in partnership with United Launch Alliance. Like Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle, Vulcan’s first stage is designed to be recovered and reused.
At present, the BE-4 engine is being tested at Blue Origin’s facility in West Texas. The company’s New Shepard and BE-4 work will support the development of their orbital launch vehicle, a two-stage vehicle with an expendable upper stage. Regular suborbital operations with passengers are expected by 2020.
The BE-4 development work, together with the Florida site, are part of a planned growth spurt over the coming year. As reported in Space News: “We’re at 600 people now, and we’re going to be, over the next year, going above 1,000,” Bezos said. “A lot of the people that we’re hiring will be for BE-4 and for our orbital launch vehicle.”
Kuzma described Blue Origin has having a “good relationship” with Space Florida, given the support the agency has provided so far. He indicated that Space Florida has been encouraging Blue Origin to set up the BE-4 plant in Florida as well. “It just makes sense,” as Blue Origin plans to build an engine test stand at SLC-36 and a plant on site at the Cape would reduce the time required to bring in engines. Other states are interested in having the engine plant as well. “It’s very competitive,” Kuzma added.
Bezos expects Blue Origin’s Florida facility to be completed in December 2017. The BE-4 engine is projected to be ready in 2019, in time to meet Congressional restrictions on the Russian-built RD-180.
Continuing to follow the motto of Gradatim ferociter (“By degrees, ferociously”), Bezos’ e-mail concluded: “It’s exciting to see the bulldozers in action – we’re clearing the way for the production of a reusable fleet of orbital vehicles that we will launch and land, again and again.”
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.