The New Shepard capsule and booster are being designed and tested to exceptionally high standards, in a process that is both rigorous and disciplined. Our manufacturing and assembly technicians have years of experience in aircraft and spacecraft manufacturing.
The elements of the New Shepard system are being tested extensively, both on the ground and during uncrewed test flights. From vibration tables and thermal chambers to hundreds of engine firings, these tests stress the vehicles and all of their subsystems.
Our flight test program continues to build experience with the New Shepard system in an uncrewed configuration, leading up to the day when we are ready for astronauts to climb on board for launch.
The New Shepard system is a fully reusable vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) space vehicle.
The system consists of a pressurized capsule atop a booster. The combined vehicles launch vertically, accelerating for approximately two and a half minutes, before the engine cuts off. The capsule then separates from the booster to coast quietly into space. After a few minutes of free fall, the booster performs an autonomously controlled rocket-powered vertical landing, while the capsule lands softly under parachutes, both ready to be used again.
Reusability allows us to fly the system again and again. With each flight, we’ll continuously improve the affordability of space exploration and research, opening space for all.
The New Shepard capsule’s interior is an ample 530 cubic feet—offering over 10 times the room Alan Shepard had on his Mercury flight. It seats six astronauts and is large enough for you to float freely and turn weightless somersaults.
Each window is made of multiple layers of fracture-tough transparencies, designed to provide crystal clarity of the incredible views before you. Minimizing distortion and reflection, the windows transmit 92% of visible light—as good as glass.
The crew capsule descends under parachutes for a smooth landing, in the same way as the earliest space pioneers. Three independent parachutes provide redundancy, while a retro-thrust system further cushions your landing.
From the time astronauts are secured in their seats until the capsule separates from the booster near apogee, escape is an option if needed. Drawing from the lessons of Mercury and Apollo, this is known as “full-envelope” escape.
The New Shepard escape system is built around a solid rocket motor that provides 70,000 lb. of thrust in a two-second burn, so the capsule can quickly move away from any hazard.
As the rocket reenters the atmosphere, air flows through a ring at the top of the booster, passively moving the center of pressure to help control descent. Four wedge-shaped fins also deploy to further enhance aerodynamic stability.
Descending at the speed of sound, the booster deploys eight large drag brakes, reducing the vehicle’s speed by half.
In addition to powering the New Shepard system to space with 110,000 pounds of thrust, the BE-3 liquid rocket engine is also designed to restart as the vehicle returns, slowing the booster to just 5 mph for landing.
Fins near the base of the booster pivot to stabilize the vehicle during ascent and steer it back to the landing pad on descent. Hydraulic actuators provide enough force to drive these fins through air speeds up to Mach 4.
The vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) booster will add something truly modern—after separating from the capsule, the booster will return to Earth. Deploying landing gear, the rocket will make a precise touchdown, enabling reusability.
We’ve designed our liquid rocket engines for high performance, low recurring cost, reusability, and reliable operations. They provide great control with a precisely timed start, high-power thrust for launch, deep throttling for landing, and stop and restart capabilities.
All our engines are American-made and are designed, developed, and manufactured at our headquarters in Washington state. Since our first, simple, single-propellant engine—the Blue Engine-1 (BE-1)—we’ve built and tested multiple generations for suborbital and orbital spaceflight.
|Engine||Propellant||Thrust at sea level|
|BE-2||kerosene + peroxide||31,000 lb.|
|BE-3||liquid hydrogen + liquid oxygen||110,000 lb.|
|BE-4||liquefied natural gas + liquid oxygen||550,000 lb.|
Our third-generation engine is what’s powering the New Shepard suborbital space vehicle. It’s also ideal for boost, upper-stage and in-space applications on government and other private launch vehicles.
The BE-3 is the first new liquid hydrogen-fueled rocket engine to be developed for production in America in over a decade. It’s been designed to withstand the extremely low temperatures of liquid hydrogen at -423°F and combustion temperatures nearing 6,000°F.
At full throttle during launch, the BE-3 provides 110,000 lb. of thrust (over a million horsepower). When returning to Earth, it can throttle down to 20,000 lb.—a uniquely low throttle that enables a precise vertical landing, within mere feet of its target.
The BE-3 is the first tapoff engine to fly. We’ve designed a simple rocket engine, where hot gasses from combustion are tapped from the main combustion chambers and fed back to spin the turbopumps in flight. Having only one combustion chamber with a single ignition event enhances reliability.
We’re one of the few US companies that designs and produces our own cryogenic turbopumps. The BE-3 engine uses a dual turbopump design that produces enough pressure to support a column of water over half a mile high.
Just like the Space Shuttle’s main engines, the BE-3 uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as propellants. This combination is highly efficient and clean, producing water as the byproduct of combustion without any carbon emissions.
The BE-4 is our fourth-generation liquid rocket engine, made to take us into orbital space and beyond. Using the latest design and manufacturing techniques, it’s made for both commercial and government missions.
The BE-4 uses oxygen-rich staged combustion of liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas to produce 550,000 lb. of thrust. The BE-4 is currently under development and will be flight-ready in 2017.
Liquefied natural gas is commercially available, affordable, and highly efficient for spaceflight. Unlike other rocket fuels, such as kerosene, liquefied natural gas can be used to pressurize a rocket’s propellant tanks. This is called autogenous pressurization and eliminates the need for costly and complex pressurization systems, like helium. Liquefied natural gas also leaves no soot byproducts as kerosene does, simplifying engine reuse.
United Launch Alliance (ULA)–maker of the Atlas V and Delta IV launch systems–has chosen the BE-4 to power its next generation Vulcan launch vehicle. With an uninterrupted record of more than 90 successful launches, ULA is America’s most dependable launch provider. Together, Blue Origin and ULA are funding 100% of the development of this new high-thrust American engine.
The BE-4 engine will be used on our New Glenn family of launch vehicles. The first stage will use seven BE-4 engines and the second stage will use a single BE-4 engine.
We’ve built a new facility dedicated solely to testing the BE-4. We’re testing components, including the subscale oxygen-rich preburner, staged combustion of the preburner, and main injector assembly. Powerpack testing of the turbopumps and main valves is underway, as is staged combustion testing of the subscale oxygen-rich preburner and main injector assembly. Full engine testing will begin in 2016.
We’ve designed our suborbital vehicle to feed directly into our orbital program. With every suborbital launch, we’re reaching toward orbital spaceflight.
The New Glenn family of orbital launch vehicles will carry astronauts and payloads to low-Earth orbit destinations and beyond. Similar to our suborbital vehicle, the first stage booster will separate and land back on Earth. Expendable second and third stages will propel the capsule into orbit, toward scientific research and exploration. At the completion of its flight, the capsule will reenter Earth’s atmosphere and land under parachutes, enabling reuse, improved reliability and lower cost access to space.
The engine that powers the New Shepard suborbital vehicle today will be upgraded with a larger nozzle to operate in the vacuum of orbital space.
We’re developing a more powerful BE-4 engine to power the orbital launch vehicle into space. Powerpack and component testing are underway.