Blue Origin has taken a step closer to lifting into space by announcing that its BE‑3 rocket engine has completed acceptance testing, opening the door to its first flight. The first new hydrogen engine to be developed in the US in over a decade, the BE-3 is part of Blue Origin's program to develop a completely reusable launch system.

Less than two years ago, the BE-3 rocket engine made its first test firing at the company’s West Texas facility in Van Horn. Since then, according to Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, the 110,000-lbf engine has completed 30,000 seconds of firing time over 450 tests, which included multiple mission duty cycles, deep throttling, and off-nominal testing points. Bezos says that this opens the way for an eventual suborbital test flight.

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, which can be continuously throttled between 110,000 lbf and 20,000 lbf thrust, is part of a vertical takeoff and landing 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 conventional boosters.

The Blue Origin's New Shepherd launch system

"Liquid hydrogen is challenging, deep throttling is challenging and reusability is challenging," says Bezos. "This engine has all three. The rewards are highest performance, vertical landing even with a single-engine vehicle and low cost. And, as a future upper stage engine, hydrogen greatly increases payload capabilities."

The BE-3 is slated to power Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital launch system and will later to be adapted as an upper stage engine. This will be succeeded by the fourth-generation BE-4, which burns liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas for 550,000 lbf of thrust. According to Blue Origin, the BE-4 has been selected for the United Launch Alliance's Next Generation Launch System.

Source: Blue Origin

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