Blue Origin to upgrade historic NASA rocket test stand

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Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin is to test its rocket engines on the NASA test stand originally used to test the Saturn V Apollo Moon mission rockets.

Blue Origin, the private space company backed by Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos is to upgrade and refurbish Test Stand 4670, at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to support testing of their BE-3U and BE-4 rocket engines as part of an agreement made last week.

Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine has been selected to power United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket and Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch vehicle – both of which are being developed to serve the civil, commercial and defense space markets.

NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard said, “This test stand once helped power NASA’s first launches to the Moon. Now, it will have a role in our ongoing commitment to facilitate growth in this sector.”

Constructed in 1965, Test Stand 4670 served as the backbone for Saturn V propulsion testing for the Apollo program, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Later, it was modified to support testing of the space shuttle external tank and main engine systems. The facility has been inactive since 1998.

Jody Singer, director of the Marshall Center said, “We’re excited to welcome Blue Origin to our growing universe of commercial partners. This agreement ensures the test stand will be used for the purpose it was built.”

NASA identified the 300ft (90m)-tall, vertical firing test stand at Marshall as an underused facility and posted a notice of availability in 2017 to gauge commercial interest in its use. Blue Origin responded and a team was commissioned to begin exploring the proposed partnership.

Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin said, “Through this agreement, we’ll provide for the refurbishment, restoration and modernization of this piece of American history – and bring the sounds of rocket engines firing back to Huntsville.”

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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