After the space shuttle program ended, many (including us) mourned the future of space travel. The future is looking a little bit brighter now, thanks to new technology being developed by private companies and research institutions for future missions. Testing is underway for everything from high-tech spacesuits to rocket engines, including NASA partner Blue Origin’s latest, a hydrogen and oxygen-fueled engine called the BE-3.
Blue Origin tested the BE-3 West Texas on November 20th, firing it for over two minutes before engaging systems that mimicked the engine’s processes during actual launch, including the boost phase, shut down, restart, and landing. What makes this engine so unique, and important, is that it wasn't designed for a single use like previous rocket engines, which burn up on reentry. The BE-3 will return from space intact, where it can be recovered for future missions. Not only does this make Blue Origin’s rocket engine efficient, but it’s also cost-effective. The idea is that the rocket engine will be used on spacecraft that can carry people into near-Earth space and back easily, including pick-ups and drop-offs at the International Space Station.
Developing a rocket engine is difficult: that’s why it’s called rocket science. Creating something so powerful that is also safe is challenging, especially when it has to heat up to a temperature of over 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit while firing. Blue Origin’s BE-3 is the first engine of its kind built in over 10 years.
Blue Origin, the brainchild of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, is also working on a space vehicle powered by the BE-3 rocket with the same cost-effectiveness in mind, and the company hopes to use it send people into suborbital space soon. Considering Bezos just announced package delivery via drones, we’ll believe it when we see it. However, the BE-3 has been successfully test-fired now, so let’s chalk this one, along with the space vehicle, up as one of Bezos’ more realistic ideas.