Jeff Bezos' thrusting cylinder makes Elon Musk's look minuscule

Amazon CEO's rocket company reveals its orbit-and-beyond-capable boosters

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin has revealed designs for its first orbit-and-beyond-capable boosters.

The “New Glenn” rocket is named in honour of first United States astronaut to orbit the Earth, John Glenn.

The 82m-tall, two-stage craft will pack 3.85 million pounds of thrust. If it lifted today, that would make it the most capable rocket in humanity's fleet. But the New Glenn may never achieve that status as SpaceX's 70m-tall Falcon Heavy is specced to provide 5.13 million pounds of thrust and is expected to fly early in 2017.

Which leaves us with Elon Musk being able to tell Jeff Bezos that size doesn't matter, it's what you do with it that counts.

Billionaire biology aside, the New Glenn looks a very handy vehicle indeed. It will pack seven of Blue Origin's BE-4 engines in the first stage, all burning liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen. The second stage will include the same engine in a form designed for use in vacuum. A planned three-stage New Glenn variant will pack a BE-3 engine (currently used to power Blue Origin's sub-orbital New Shepard vehicle) running liquefied hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The first stage will be reusable and looks like it will try to mimic SpaceX's vertical landing trick, perhaps even on an offshore barge.

Bezos has revealed the rockets' thrust, but not their weight. So it's hard to say exactly how high they'll be able to go or the payloads they can carry. It would be very surprising indeed if they can't reach geostationary orbit. The three-stage variant looks to have the potential to go rather further.

Blue Origin says it hopes New Glenn will fly before 2020. That's rather later than the Falcon Heavy, but still a very welcome addition to humanity's heavy lift capabilities as we consider further adventures in orbit, and well beyond. ®

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