NASA announced on Tuesday that Blue Origin had successfully test fired its new BE-3 hydrogen/oxygen rocket engine at the company’s West Texas facility in Van Horn. The test, which took place on November 20, was a series of static firings to simulate the engine sequence of an actual suborbital flight from lift off to landing and is part of the development of Blue Origin’s manned Orbital Launch Vehicle for carrying passengers and cargo into low Earth orbit.
During the test, the BE-3 engine was fired for 145 seconds to simulate a launch, reaching 110,000 lbs of thrust, It then “coasted” for four minutes on the static test stand before firing again for one minute to simulate a vertical landing maneuver with the engine throttled down to 25,000 lbs of thrust.
The November test follows on from a series of static firings previously carried out last year at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. According to NASA, developing the engine is especially difficult because it must operate under temperatures ranging from that of liquid hydrogen’s -423º F (-253º C) to 6,000º F (3,315º C) when firing.
The BE-3 is notable as the first new liquid hydrogen engine since the RS-68 engine for the Delta IV booster went into service in 2002. The BE-3 is part of a Reusable Booster System, which will allow the spacecraft to fly again rather than be disposed off after one mission, as is the case with the Russian Soyuz.
The Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin is a partner in NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP), which is helping with the engine’s development as well as reviewing the Orbital Launch Vehicle’s design. Blue Origin is one of several private companies developing low-Earth orbit spacecraft for NASA.
"Working with NASA accelerated our BE-3 development by over a year in preparation for flight testing on our New Shepard suborbital system and ultimately on vehicles carrying humans to low-Earth orbit," says Rob Meyerson, president and program manager of Blue Origin. "The BE-3 is a versatile, low-cost hydrogen engine applicable to NASA and commercial missions."
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