Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has announced plans to build a $200m rocket manufacturing plant and a new launch site in Florida.
Increasing his stake in the billionaires’ space race, Bezos said his start-up Blue Origin, currently overshadowed by enterprises such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX or Orbital Sciences, will make Florida’s space coast its new home.
“We’ll be launching from here later this decade,” Bezos said. “You will hear us before you see us. Our American-made BE-4 engine – the power behind our orbital launch vehicle – will be acceptance tested here.”
The BE-4 currently in development by Blue Origin is a large staged-combustion rocket engine designed to produce 2,400 kilonewtons of thrust.
The engine, expected to take the first fight in 2019, is set to become the main engine for the new Vulcan rocket in development by the United Launch Alliance to replace the current Atlas V launch vehicle. According to Blue Origin, BE-4 offers the fastest way to replace Russian RD-180 engines by a US-made product.
Seattle-based Blue Origin will soon start construction of the new manufacturing facility, the Exploration Park, at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center. The firm will also take over Launch Complex 36, from where spacecraft such as Surveyor 1, the first US spacecraft to soft-land on the Moon, or Pioneer 10, the first to travel through the asteroid belt, were launched in the past.
“Locating vehicle assembly near our launch site eases the challenge of processing and transporting really big rockets,” Bezos said.
In addition to BE-4, Blue Horizon also builds the 490-kilonewton liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen cryogenic engine BE-3 designed for sub-orbital flights.
“As a kid, I was inspired by the giant Saturn V missions that roared to life from these shores,” Bezos said. “Now we are thrilled to be coming to the Sunshine State for a new era of exploration.”