Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin space company tests rocket engine

At Blue Origin’s West Texas facility, the BE-3 engine demonstrated a full simulated suborbital mission profile, igniting, throttling, and restarting on command.

Lauren Harnett/NASA

Just days after he unveiled plans for a futuristic drone delivery system on CBS News' 60 Minutes, CEO Jeff Bezos is announcing another aerial milestone. His private space flight company, Blue Origin, successfully test-fired a new rocket engine that could someday be used to launch spacecraft into orbit.

The BE-3 engine uses liquid hydrogen fuel -- the first newly developed rocket engine to do so in more than a decade. It was designed at Blue Origin's research and development center outside Seattle, and the company says it's been run through more than 160 starts at its test site near Van Horn, Texas. 

The latest test took place on Nov. 20, but details were not revealed until Tuesday. 

The company and NASA officials say the test ran the engine through the steps of a complete mission cycle. It mimicked space flight with 110,000 pounds of thrust during a 145-second boost phase, then shut down for approximately four and a half minutes to simulate coasting, and finally restarted and throttled down as it would during a controlled vertical landing. 


“Given its high-performance, low cost, and reusability the BE-3 is well suited for boost, upper-stage and in-space applications on both government and commercial launch systems,” Rob Meyerson, president and program manager of Blue Origin, said in a press release.  

The BE-3 engine is a key part of the company's plan to launch humans and cargo into space at a lower cost than NASA ever could. 

Blue Origin is working on a space vehicle called the New Shepard, which is designed to carry three or more human passengers into space on suborbital missions. A reusable booster rocket also under development could someday propel a space capsule into orbit.

Blue Origin is a member of NASA's Commercial Crew Program, which aims to develop privately-built systems to ferry supplies -- and eventually astronauts -- to the International Space Station. Other private companies in the program include SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp., which have both successfully launched cargo ships to the space station.

Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 but has been more secretive about its work than the highly-publicized efforts of Elon Musk's SpaceX. 

Bezos made headlines earlier this week when he revealed that Amazon is trying to develop a drone delivery system that would use small octocopters to drop people's packages on their doorsteps. 

The drone plan faces many technical and legal hurdles and he admitted it's years away from becoming reality.