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Blue Origin highlights Huntsville engine factory, Space Camp before successful Thursday launch

Blue Origin on Thursday appeared to successfully complete its 14th mission for the New Shepard program.

The unmanned mission was meant to test in-capsule upgrades, with “Mannequin Skywalker” as the spacecraft’s occupant.

NS-14 lifted off from Launch Site One in West Texas at 11:19 a.m. CT. A mere seven minutes later, the reusable capsule had returned from suborbit and softly touched back down at Blue Origin’s landing pad at the same location.

On the quick trip, Mannequin Skywalker wore a pin from Space Camp, which is located at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

In a webcast directly before the launch, Blue Origin showcased Space Camp with a quick virtual tour.

Blue Origin is currently operating a full-rate engine manufacturing facility in the Rocket City, building BE-3U and BE-4 engines.

Both of these engines are used for the company’s in-development New Glenn heavy-lift rocket; seven BE-4s are utilized in the first stage, while two BE-3Us comprise the second stage. The BE-4 will also be used to power United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Decatur-built Vulcan Centaur rockets.

ULA’s selection of the BE-4 for this next-generation launch vehicle drew Blue Origin to Huntsville in the first place.

Since then, Blue Origin has refurbished the historic test stands at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center that once served as a the backbone for Saturn V propulsion testing for the Apollo program. The BE-3U and BE-4 engines have been tested at Marshall, and Blue Origin’s BE-7 engine is currently undergoing testing there as well.

This brings the test stands’ legacy full circle, as the BE-7 powers Blue Origin’s Blue Moon developmental lunar lander that is part of the “National Team” proposal competing to build the Human Landing System (HLS) that will eventually take the first woman and the next man to the moon’s surface as part of the Artemis program. NASA’s HLS program is managed at Marshall, and Blue Origin’s lunar work is conducted out of Huntsville.

It should be noted that a BE-3U engine is also used in decelerating the Blue Moon for lunar landing.

A full-scale mockup of Blue Origin’s lunar lander is currently on display at its Huntsville facility.

In its webcast on Thursday, the company also displayed a virtual tour of that plant and showed off its made-in-Alabama engines.


RELATED: Huntsville’s Dynetics submits HLS proposal to NASA

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

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