Blue Origin preparing for New Glenn testing at LC-36 ahead of maiden flight

by Harry Stranger

Over the past few months, Blue Origin has continued making progress towards the maiden launch of its orbital class rocket, New Glenn. The company has continued testing systems at Launch Complex 36 (LC-36), and recently submitted plans for a refurbishment facility near the Cape Canaveral Skid Strip, expanding Blue Origin’s already impressive spread of installations on the Space Coast.

On Sept.15, 2023, Blue Origin submitted documents for the refurbishment facility to the St. Johns Water Management District. The documents explain the facility’s purpose is to “provide a building and associated infrastructure for the refurbishment of launch vehicles, and reuse of existing large and small components for rocket launches”.

The project is planned to be built on Central Control Road and covers a total of 58.8 acres and includes the refurbishment facility, parking areas, stormwater retention areas, and a 20-acre area for future developments. What’s more, the facility is just a two-kilometer drive from LC-36. Once approved, this facility will play a major role in Blue Origin’s goal of making New Glenn another workhorse vehicle for the space industry, similar to SpaceX’s Falcon rockets.

A site plan of the proposed refurbishment facility planned along Central Control Rd. (Credit: Blue Origin/St. Johns Water Management District)

In August, Blue Origin released a picture showing the inside of its main production building at Exploration Park. This image, taken in mid-June, shows a vast amount of hardware on the production floor including first and second-stage tank sections, barrel sections, domes, engine/landing leg sections, and interstages. To add to this, Blue Origin also released a new video on the New Glenn section of its website which shows a New Glenn first-stage tank inside of the Tank Cleaning and Testing Facility, which sits next door to the main production building.

During a panel at the World Satellite Business Week, Blue Origin’s Jarrett Jones stated Blue Origin has four boosters in various stages of production, and testing is going well.

A New Glenn first stage tank section undergoing testing inside of the Tank Cleaning and Testing facility. (Credit: Max Evans for NSF)

In addition to the production of New Glenn, Blue Origin has continued to prepare LC-36 to support the testing of the hardware currently being manufactured. In recent months, Blue Origin has conducted a number of tests with both the main transporter erector, which will be used to support a fully stacked New Glenn, as well as a smaller transporter erector, which appears to be used to test New Glenn’s second-stage on the launch pad. A second-stage simulator has already been observed on this transporter erector.

In these tests, Blue rolled the transporter erectors on top of a self-propelled modular transporter system from the hangar, up the ramp, and to the launch mount, which sits between the Vehicle Access Tower and Lightning Protection Tower — both of which stand at 574 feet tall. Once at the launch mount, the transporter erector mates with the launch mount and is raised to the vertical position.

While Blue Origin has been preparing to test New Glenn’s upper stages on the pad, they have also been preparing a new test site for first stage tanks to the east of the launch pad. This test site was first noted in planning documents in 2022 as “GS-1 Test Area”, with GS-1 standing for “Glenn Stage 1.” Imagery has shown that the site has been outfitted with stands to support testing of rocket stages, as well as a propellant lines running from the launch pad to the test stand, which is very similar to how the upper stage test stand is set up.

A satellite image taken on July 5th showing New Glenn’s transporter erector on the launch pad. The GS-1 test area can be seen near the bottom left. (Credit: Google Earth)

Another recent change has to do with Jarvis, a program run by Blue Origin to rapidly develop a reusable upper stage for New Glenn. The second Jarvis tank, which had been sitting on the second-stage test stand at LC-36, was recently removed and transported back to the tents where these tanks are produced.

In July, Blue Origin filed a patent application for the design of a fully reusable upper stage, similar to what Jarvis tanks appear to be testing. The patent application, which had been in work for two years, shows what work is being done in the hangars and tents at Blue Origin. The design shown is a seven-meter wide upper stage with an aerospike engine and an actively cooled heat shield. The document describes the aerospike as consisting of two BE-3U power packs with up to 30 individual combustion chambers.

As flight hardware nears testing, Blue Origin is continuing to ensure its readiness to support the various phases of testing associated with preparing a vehicle for flight. Inside the hangar are first and second stage simulators, with two faring halves potentially sitting inside the hangar as well.

New Glenn’s simulator rolling to LC-36 in 2021. (Credit: Blue Origin)

With simulators for all the components of a full stack in the hangar, Blue Origin could use these articles to familiarise teams with handling, assembling, and rolling out a fully stacked New Glenn before flight hardware is ready for integrated testing.

In early August, Blue Origin conducted a BE-3U test fire using Marshall Space Flight Center’s Test Stand 4670. The test was the first since Blue Origin upgraded the historic test stand to support both BE-3U and BE-4 engines, which will be used by New Glenn. In a video recently released by Blue Origin, both a BE-3U and a BE-4 can be seen on the stand at the same time.

(Lead image: The main production floor at Blue Origin’s Florida factory as of mid-June. Credit: Blue Origin)

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