Blue Origin To Begin Test Flights Within Weeks

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WASHINGTON — Blue Origin, the commercial spaceflight company backed by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, will soon start flight tests of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle, a Federal Aviation Administration official said April 21.

George Nield, FAA associate administrator for space transportation, speaking at the 31st Space Symposium. Credit: Tom Kimmell
George Nield, FAA associate administrator for space transportation, speaking at the 31st Space Symposium. Credit: Tom Kimmell

George Nield, FAA associate administrator for commercial space transportation, said at a meeting of the National Research Council’s Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board here April 21 that he expected Blue Origin to begin test flights in a “couple of weeks.”

“They’ll be flying their reusable launch vehicle in the next couple of weeks. Watch the news for that,” Nield said. He did not provide additional details about those test plans, but praised the company’s “really professional, first-class organization.”

Blue Origin already possesses an experimental permit from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation that would allow it to carry out test flights. The permit was originally issued by the FAA in February 2014 and revised this February.

The permit covers “an unlimited number of flights of the New Shepard System” from Blue Origin’s test site in West Texas, approximately 200 kilometers east of El Paso. A copy of the permit posted on the FAA website offers no technical details about the vehicle other than it has separate propulsion and crew modules, which the company has previously disclosed.

Blue Origin declined to comment on the specific schedule provided by Nield. “We recently completed BE-3 acceptance testing and are working toward RLV flights later this year,” company spokeswoman Jessica Pieczonka said in an April 21 email.

Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson speaking at the 31st Space Symposium. Credit: Tom Kimmell
Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson speaking at the 31st Space Symposium. Credit: Tom Kimmell

Blue Origin announced April 7 that it had completed testing of the BE-3 engine that the company will use on New Shepard. That engine, using liquid oxygen and hydrogen propellants, can generate between 20,000 and 110,000 pounds-force of thrust, allowing it to support both vertical takeoffs and landings of the vehicle.

In a media teleconference with reporters April 7, Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson said New Shepard test flights would begin later this year, but did not offer a specific timeframe. Those test flights would initially be likely on a monthly basis, he said.

“We expect a series of dozens of flights over the extent of the test program,” Meyerson said. “We expect, over the next couple of years, to be flying regularly with the New Shepard vehicle.”