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Maiden flight of Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket now targeted for late 2022

The first launch of Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket, a heavy-lift partially reusable booster that will compete head to head with SpaceX in the commercial space arena, is now targeted for the fourth quarter of 2022, the company announced Thursday. That's a year later than expected.

In a website update, Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, said the schedule had been "refined to match the demand of Blue Origin's commercial customers" after the company lost out to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance in a Space Force procurement for rockets to launch national security payloads through 2026.

"New Glenn is proceeding to fulfill its current commercial contracts, pursue a large and growing commercial market and enter into new civil space launch contracts," the company said in a statement. "We hope to launch (national security) payloads in the future, and remain committed to serving the U.S. national defense mission."

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An artist's impression of a New Glenn rocket in flight, powered by seven methane-oxygen BE-4 engines. The rocket's maiden flight is expected late next year. Blue Origin

With little fanfare, Blue Origin is mounting an ambitious commercial space effort, designing both sub-orbital New Shepard and heavy-lift orbit-class New Glenn rockets. The company also is leading a team designing a lunar lander option for NASA's Artemis program.

Blue is in the final stages of testing the New Shepard rocket and passenger capsule at a facility near Van Horn, Texas, where 14 test flights have been conducted to date. The company is expected to begin launching civilian passengers and researchers on up-and-down flights to the lower edge of space later this year, competing with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic.

Just outside the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Blue has built a sprawling million-square-foot manufacturing facility to build New Glenn rockets and has nearly finished a state-of-the-art launch complex at an abandoned pad — LC-36 — at the nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Headquartered in Kent, Washington, the company also operates a rocket engine factory in Huntsville, Alabama, building a family of hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engines and the much more powerful methane-burning BE-4 that will power the New Glenn's first stage. Another engine, the BE-7, will be used by the company's planned lunar lander.

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Blue Origin's million-square-foot Florida manufacturing facility, just outside the Kennedy Space Center, where orbit-class New Glenn rockets will be built. Blue Origin

"Blue Origin has invested more than $2.5 billion in facilities and infrastructure at all sites, including $1 billion invested in the rebuild of historic LC-36, which is nearing completion," the company said, tweeting videos of the Florida facilities.

The 23-foot-wide New Glenn rocket will stand more than 33 stories tall with a 23-foot-wide payload fairing, five feet wider than fairings currently in use. The rocket's first stage will use seven BE-4 engines, generating some 3.8 million pounds of thrust, while two upgraded BE-3 engine will power the booster's second stage with a combined 240,000 pounds of push.

United Launch Alliance plans to use two BE-4 engines in the first stage of its new Vulcan rocket, which will replace the company's family of Delta 4 and Atlas 5 boosters.

"So the New Glenn is 23 feet in diameter, over 330 feet in length, the seven-meter fairing is double the volume of the standard 5.6 meter fairing is flying on vehicles today," Scott Henderson, vice president of test and flight operations and the director of Florida operations, said during a conference earlier this week.

"So it's a very capable booster, especially if you want to put large payloads into orbit, maybe something with a large aperture or a batch of small- to medium-sized satellites, you could really load up this payload fairing."

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A mockup of the New Glenn's 180-foot-long reusable first stage that will be used for testing at the Cape Canaveral launch site. Blue Origin

Launch complex 36 features a massive new access gantry, one designed to eventually support piloted New Glenn flights, and boasts a water tower more than 350 feet tall that will dump 750,000 gallons of water on the pad in just 22 seconds. The water is needed to provide cooling and to reduce acoustic stresses on the rocket at engine ignition.

"New Glenn is capable of turning around from one flight to the next in just over two weeks," Henderson said. "And each of those first stages is built to fly 25 times. So we've got to make sure we don't damage it on liftoff."

Like SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets, the New Glenn's first stage will land on the deck of a large recovery ship for return to the factory, refurbishment and re-launch.

SpaceX leases historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center and operates another pad, LC-40, at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Last year, SpaceX launched 26 Falcon 9 rockets, 25 of them from Florida, and has launched five so far this year.

The company also is testing a new rocket design, the heavy-lift, fully reusable Starship, at a facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

Last August 7, SpaceX and United Launch Alliance won long-term contracts to launch high priority national security payloads through 2026. The Pentagon estimates it will need more than 30 launches between 2022 and 2026, 60 percent of them going to ULA and 40 percent to SpaceX.

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