Rocket Engine testing is a common occurrence. Engines are set up on test stands and are fired to make sure they work as designed before being put inside a rocket to send it to Earth orbit and, sometimes, beyond. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ space launch company, recently did a hot fire of its new BE-4 rocket engine. Ars Technica suggests that the test was historic for a number of reasons.

BE-4 rocket engine being done privately

Typically, even commercial rocket engines get government money to help defray development costs. One reason is that NASA and the military are core customers for launch services. The other reason is new rocket development can be costly.

The BE-4 is being done entirely in-house, paid for with private funds without very much government money. Blue Origin has plans to use the engine for its New Glenn launch vehicle, due to start flying as early as 2020. The rocket engine may also be used for the United Launch Alliance Vulcan. It will be capable of 550,000 pounds of thrust and will be entirely reusable. The engine will be manufactured in a facility in Alabama. The idea is that the BE-4 will be a made in America rocket engine, thus removing American commercial launch companies from dependence on Russian made technology.

SpaceX, a competitor

To be sure, Blue Origin is not the only commercial space launch company that is doing rocket engines on its own. The SpaceX Merlin, which powers the Falcon 9, was done mostly in-house with little government funding.

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Elon Musk’s company is currently working on the Raptor engine that is intended for use in the BFR rocket that is designed to facilitate a Mars colony effort, among other purposes.

What happens now?

Blue Origin still intends to get the New Glenn up and flying by 2020. The New Glenn will be a reusable launch vehicle designed to launch payloads into Earth orbit as well as to conduct deep space missions. The rocket will be the centerpiece of Blue Origin’s efforts to participate in the return to the moon effort, both as part of the NASA led program and, likely, on its own accord.

With the SpaceX Falcon Heavy flying, likely, by the end of 2017 and the BFR in serious development, a new era in Commercial Spaceflight is likely to dawn by the end of the current decade. The fact of commercially designed and developed rockets flying, landing, and then flying again promises to upend the way spaceflight is undertaken. Cheap access to space has been a decades-long dream that may, at last, about to become a reality.