Amazon Founder's Space Company, Blue Origin, Successfully Test Launches Liquid Hydrogen Rocket Engine [VIDEO]

By Ajit Jha on December 8, 2013 12:38 PM EST

Blue Origin
The Blue Origin BE-3 is the first newly built liquid hydrogen rocket in over a decade. (Photo: YouTube)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' key venture, Blue Origin, reached yet another milestone on Tuesday: The aerospace company successfully tested its new hydrogen and oxygen-fueled engine.

The company had test fired its BE-3 engine on Nov. 20. The test was to see whether it could withstand a full-cycle suborbital space journey. "We intend to upgrade this engine for a variety of applications," the company's president, Rob Meyerson, told NBC News during Tuesday's teleconference. The new engine is powerful enough to fly into sub-orbit carrying a ship, crew, and cargo. Two days before the test, Bezos had revealed in an announcement that Amazon had been testing unmanned delivery drones.

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Known as a full-mission duty cycle, the rocket went through a 145-second boost period, thrusting at 110,000 lbs. The engine then shut down for about four-and-a-half minutes in order to replicate a rocket coasting through its highest sub-orbital point. After this, it restarted with 25,000 lbs. of thrust. Blue Origin has so far logged 9,100 seconds of operation with 160 starts at the company's test facility near Van Horn, Texas.

BE-3 is the first completely new engine in the United States to be developed using liquid hydrogen fuel in more than a decade, according to Meyerson. It is difficult to create such engines because they must operate at -423 degrees Fahrenheit (-253 degrees Celsius), which is the temperature of liquid hydrogen, while also enduring temperatures of more than 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit (3,300 degrees Celsius), at the time that the engine is fired. Liquid hydrogen is unbeatable in terms of performance, according to Meyerson.

Blue Origin has been working for over a decade on a launch system, called New Shepard, that is designed to carry tourists and researchers on suborbital flights around 100 kilometers into space. The same technology, according to the company's plans, can eventually be used for the orbital launch system to transport astronauts to the International Space Station any time after 2018.

 "The BE-3 will gain extensive flight heritage on our New Shepard suborbital system prior to entering service on vehicles carrying humans to low-Earth orbit," Meyerson stated in a press release. "Given its high-performance, low cost, and reusability, the BE-3 is well suited for boost, upper-stage, and in-space applications on both government and commercial launch systems."

Blue origin has faced intense rivalry with the California-based SpaceX, which was founded by PayPal creator Elon Musk - both companies want to use NASA's Launch Complex, 39A, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA recently announced that it would like to pass the operation and maintenance of the Space Center to a private company as soon as possible. However, Blue Origin has contested NASA's selection criteria for the job and is awaiting the verdict from the Government Accountability Office.

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