Blue Origin is setting up base on the Space Coast after announcing an agreement to take over the historic Launch Complex 36 (LC-36) at Cape Canaveral. The announcement will result in over 300 jobs being created as Blue Origin set up its home base for production and launches – set to included its new orbital rocket flying with its BE-4 engine.
Blue Origin – owned by Billionaire Jeff Bezos – recently upped its game when it announced a deal with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) for the development of the powerful BE-4 engine.
The arrangement with space industry giant ULA will ensure Blue Origin will be involved with flagship missions on ULA’s new Vulcan launch vehicle.
The announcement came after the company dipped its feet into its Commercial Crew aspirations via an unfunded Space Act Agreement (SAA) with NASA during the Commercial Crew Program drive.
The NASA-level cooperation allowed for the development of Blue Origin’s biconic-shape capsule, in tandem with working on its launch vehicle development.
The company took another step forward when it successfully test launched its New Shepard vehicle utilizing its variable-throttle BE-3 engine – that is designed to mirror the goals of SpaceX’s Merlin 1D engine, with the role of launching uphill, before conducting a propulsive return, enabling the commercially attractive aspiration of reuse on future missions.
The BE-3 engine – which has undergone a large amount of testing, including runs on the E-1 test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center – may also be sold to commercial companies as a potential upper stage option.
The test flight of New Shepard, from Blue Origin’s test site in West Texas, resulted in a successful lofting of its capsule to 307,000 feet.
While that next attempt will include a fine-tuned attempt of landing the booster, Blue Origin is already eyeing an evolution of its technology, with a marriage of its BE-4 engine, and for launches to take place out of LC-36.
Blue Origin evaluated a number of sites for a large production facility, before finally settling on the Space Coast location.
Assisted at the political level, with aerospace economic development agency, Space Florida, the focal point for finalizing the deal, Blue Origin selected the Space Coast out of options in 12 States.
LC-36 – and its two pads – has a huge history, involving 145 launches over four decades.
It was the launch site for missions ranging from interplanetary to communications and national defense payloads.
In the mid-1960s, the complex suffered a dramatic failure when the fifth Atlas-Centaur – and final rocket to use the Centaur-C – lifted off from LC-36A on 2 March 1965 with the SD-1 spacecraft; a dynamic test article for the Surveyor program.
Two seconds after liftoff, the an engine failure resulted in the rocket falling back onto its launch pad and exploding, causing significant damage to the complex.
Following this failure, construction of a second launch pad at LC-36B, which had been put on hold, was resumed, and the pad was completed later that year.
With LC-36A still under repair, the sixth Atlas-Centaur launch, and first flight of the RL10A-3-1 powered Centaur-D, lifted off in August carrying SD-2.
Notable missions to launch from LC-36 include the Mariner missions – the first US spacecraft to visit other planets, Pioneer 10 – the first spacecraft to travel through the asteroid belt, and Surveyor 1 – the first US spacecraft to land softly on the Moon.
The major structures at the complex were demolished in 2006, a year after its final launch – conducted by an Atlas IIAS, lofting the NROL-1 spacecraft.
The potential to revamp the complex came in 2010 when the USAF 45th Space Wing issued a Real Property License to Space Florida for LC-36.
Five years later, Moon Express leased the pad in from Space Florida to use as a test site for the MTC-1X Lunar lander flight test vehicle.
However, it’s Tuesday’s announcement that will breath new life into the complex, as Blue Origin utilize the Space Coast area not only for launches, but for the production of hardware.
“One of the unique things about our Florida operations is that we aren’t just launching here, we’re building here,” wrote Mr. Bezos. “At Exploration Park, we’ll have a 21st century production facility where we’ll focus on manufacturing our reusable fleet of orbital launchers and readying them for flight again and again.
“Locating vehicle assembly near our launch site eases the challenge of processing and transporting really big rockets.”
Tuesday’s announcement revealed a new rendering of a Blue Origin rocket launching from LC-36.
The rocket – an orbital vehicle that will sport the BE-4 engine – is a two-stage rocket and capsule system that will ferry astronauts and payloads to low-Earth orbit destinations.
This vehicle will also play into Blue Origin’s aspirations for first stage reuse, potentially landing just a short distance from SpaceX’s first stage landing site at LC-13.
“Similar to our suborbital vehicle, the first stage booster will separate and land back on Earth,” noted newly updated Blue Origin press materials.
“An expendable second stage will continue to 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.”
No date has been revealed as to when launches will begin from LC-36, other than later this decade.
“Residents of the Space Coast have enjoyed front-row seats to the future for nearly 60 years. Our team’s passion for pioneering is the perfect fit for a community dedicated to forging new frontiers,” added Mr. Bezos.
(Images: Blue Origin, L2 Historical, NASA).