According to Space News, Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos announced the name and some details of the orbital launch vehicle that company has been working on in secret. The rocket will be called New Glenn, after John Glenn, the first American to fly in low Earth orbit. The first stage will be powered by seven Be-4 rocket engines that burn liquid oxygen and natural gas. The second stage will have a single one of those engines.

The New Glenn will be used to send both satellites and people into low Earth orbit. A variant with a third stage will be used for beyond Earth orbit missions. The first stage would fly back and be reused much like the suborbital New Shepard and the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage.

The first stage will have 3.85 million pounds of thrust, which engineer and Mars Society President Robert Zubrin estimates will give the New Glenn the capability of throwing 70 metric tons into low Earth orbit.

The addition of the third stage will give the rocket the capacity of tossing payloads of 20 metric tons to beyond low-Earth destinations such as the moon or Mars. The first planned launch of New Glenn is scheduled to take place around 2020 Launch Complex 36 at the Cape Canaveral launch site in Florida.

The purpose of the new rocket is apparent. It will compete directly with the partially reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy and the ULA Vulcan for relatively cheap access to low Earth orbit.

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With plans to extend the International Space Station beyond 2024, perhaps as a commercially run facility, and plans by Bigelow and Axiom for commercial space stations, a considerable market will be created for humans traveling in space beyond tourism. The third stage variant will allow Blue Origin to launch government and commercial payloads to the moon, Mars, and other destinations cheaper that current launch vehicles.

Bezos teased that an even more advanced launch vehicle, the New Armstrong, is on the drawing board. While the Blue Origin CEO did not provide any details, the name provides the hint. New Shepard flies on suborbital missions. New Glenn goes to low Earth orbit. Would it not be beyond comprehension that New Armstrong would take people back to the moon?   

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