Jeff Bezos trousers $8m Florida rocket sweetener package

Cash lures Blue Origin to Sunshine State

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Amazon supremo Jeff Bezos' space tentacle Blue Origin has been offered another eight million reasons to operate in Florida, in the form of a suitcase full of cash for the mysterious "Project Panther".

According to Reuters, commissioners in Brevard County – home of NASA's Kennedy Space Center – are very keen to see Blue Origin conduct manufacturing and launch operations around the facility. Yesterday, they agreed to hand Bezos $8m, on top of the roughly $32m already granted in "state, regional and local incentives", to ensure that happens.

There's no official word on what exactly Project Panther involves, but Reuters notes: "The plans include a rocket manufacturing plant that would be located at an industrial park adjacent to NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The rockets would fly from a launch pad leased from Space Florida that is located at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, south of the NASA base."

Brevard County was hit hard by the end of the Space Shuttle programme and the resulting loss of local jobs back in 2011. With Project Panther, Blue Origin will reportedly bring $200m to the table, and create 330 posts.

Blue Origin is developing the sub-orbital New Shepard – a "fully reusable vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) space vehicle". It's lifted by the BE-3 liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen powerplant, which can deliver 110,000 lb of thrust during launch and a "uniquely low throttle" of just 20,000 lb when the New Shepard booster stage returns gently to terra firma.

Back in April, Bezos declared himself highly satisfied with the vehicle's first developmental test flight, which soared aloft from the company's West Texas launch facility.

The company is also revving up its liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen-burning BE-4 engine for orbital launches. It notes: "Unlike other rocket fuels, such as kerosene, liquefied natural gas can be used to pressurise a rocket’s propellant tanks. This is called autogenous pressurisation and eliminates the need for costly and complex pressurisation systems, like helium."

Commercial launch rival SpaceX uses helium to pressurise its Falcon 9 rocket's liquid oxygen fuel tanks. The failure of a strut holding one helium tank resulted in an explosive ending to its CRS-7 mission launch to the International Space Station on 28 June. SpaceX is currently grounded for a couple of months, following the expensive fireworks display.

The BE-4 will power the next generation of United Launch Alliance (ULA) launch vehicles, planned as replacements for its Atlas and Delta lifters. ®


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