Wall Street Pit

Watch Out, SpaceX. The Competition is Gaining

Blue Origin, the private aerospace company owned by Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has for the first time, after six long years of development successfully tested its fourth generation rocket engine. The achievement marks a breakthrough for the company as it works towards developing a massive New Glenn rocket, and sell the engine to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) – the joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing and a main contractor for the US Military – for its Vulcan rocket, a heavy-payload launch vehicle.

Dubbed as BE-4, the enormous liquid rocket engine Bezos unveiled earlier this year, and one that could eventually shuttle humans to space, boast 550,000 pounds force of thrust – producing 5x more power than Blue Origin’s BE-3 engines. By way of comparison, the Merlin engine which launches SpaceX’s rockets, emits ‘only’ 190,000 pounds force of thrust at liftoff.

Separately here, there has been talk about the Merlin engine possibly powering SpaceX’s BFR, an eight stories tall re-usable 42-engine super heavy lift vehicle that billionaire SpaceX/Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) founder Elon Musk says could revolutionize Earth-bound air and space travel. That said, Raptor, designed to help spacecraft travel to Mars and beyond, has also been touted as the rocket engine for the BFR. But getting back to Amazon’s BE-4 engine-now SpaceX’s fiercest competitor, the Seattle-based e-commerce giant did not provide any technical data about the test, including duration or thrust level.

However, seeing the BE-4 in action during its first “hotfire” test, it’s apparent things went fine after the engine was fired at half of its power for about three seconds.

After the demonstration, ULA issued a statement congratulating Blue Origin-calling the successful test firing of the company’s game-changing engine rocket “a tremendous accomplishment.”

The test, conducted last Wednesday, has fueled hopes that the BE-4 will be able to complete Blue Origin’s first space tourism trip by April 2019. That launch date however, would put Bezos’ space venture slightly behind SpaceX, which plans to send two passengers on a trip around the moon by the end of 2018.

It’s worth noting that unlike SpaceX, Amazon’s Blue Origin is not draining taxpayer’s money since the project is largely funded by Bezos and with some support from ULA, a significant detail that makes this development even more important.

The test is also important when considering that besides marking the firing of a new American-made engine, which will have a vast capacity in terms of carrying much more mass farther into space, it ends “American dependence on the Russian-made RD-180 engine” while at the same time, sending a clear message that there is a new player in the lucrative space hardware launch market “preparing to compete both for national security and commercial launches.”

Once operational, New Glenn with its 550,000 pounds of thrust and seven engines ready to be used for a first-stage total liftoff thrust of nearly 4 million pounds, will be used for commercial satellite launches, but Bezos is also aiming Pentagon contracts and NASA missions.

Saying Bezos’ space outfit will tighten up the competition with Musk’s SpaceX, would be at this point an understatement.

At last check, Amazon stock was trading 2 points higher to $968 and change, while TSLA was up $1.80 to $338.87.