It’s no secret that there is a healthy rivalry between Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origins company, and Elon Musk and SpaceX. Each has an operating launch vehicle, but SpaceX clearly leads the race with its Falcon 9 rocket. Blue Origins’ New Shepard rocket reaches space, but lacks the umph to enter orbit. Blue Origins, however, has had significant successes returning its rockets to safely land back at their launch pads, something SpaceX has had mixed results with. Still, Elon Musk has been vocal about the differences in orbital capabilities of the two competing rockets, and he’s right – Blue Origins trails its rival.
But now Blue Origins is looking to one-up SpaceX. It has announced a new heavy lift launch vehicle called New Glenn, after astronaut and pilot John Glenn. By commercial standards the New Glenn rocket is massive. At 313 feet tall and 23 feet in diameter, the 3-stage version places third among past, existing or planned launch vehicles. behind NASA’s massive Saturn V and planned SLS – each of those tops 360 feet. It also will place third in lift capacity. The Saturn V could take 140 tons of payload to low Earth orbit and the SLS in its heaviest configuration will be able to carry 130 tons. Though the lifting capacity of the larger version 3-stage New Glenn rocket has not been announced, it has been estimated that it could take as much as 70 tons to orbit. That’s nearly three times the capacity of the European Space Agency’s Ariane 6, due to launch for the first time in 2020, and China’s new Long March 5. If the 70 tons holds true, it would be more than SpaceX’s planned Falcon Heavy (54.4 tons), which will surely get the competitive juices flowing. It should be noted that none of the national rockets are fully reusable – both the Falcon and New Glenn are/will be.
Until now, the heavy lifting into space has literally all been done by NASA. While both Falcon Heavy and New Glenn fall well short of NASA’s new SLS, they will be much more capable than any other existing launch system and the only commercial launch vehicles able to wear the “heavy” moniker. It is certainly an exciting time in the space industry.
Image credits: NASA and Blue Origin