Blue Origin practices with a dummy model of its New Glenn orbital rocket in Florida

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New Glenn first-stage simulator
Blue Origin’s New Glenn first-stage simulator makes an appearance. (Blue Origin Photo)

It’ll be at least another year before Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket gets its first launch, but Jeff Bezos’ space venture has brought out a dummy version of New Glenn’s first stage to practice for that eventual countdown.

The 188-foot-long, 23-foot-wide simulator emerged from Blue Origin’s rocket factory in Florida last week.

In a series of tweets, the company said the GS1 simulator would “enable the team to practice ground ops for New Glenn’s massive first stage, including the transport from the rocket manufacturing complex to LC-36 for integration.”

“While not destined for flight, this hardware is giving our team invaluable data to inform future launch vehicle operations,” Blue Origin said.

The simulator is basically the weighted shell of New Glenn’s reusable first-stage booster, without the BE-4 engines that would launch the rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Launch Complex 36. The BE-4 is due for its first use on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket next year after development delays.

The second stage is being developed separately, with an eye toward eventually making that stage fully reusable as well. And there are signs that the New Glenn’s fairing is undergoing tests at NASA’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio.

Blue Origin already has signed up customers for satellite launches on New Glenn — which is named after the late astronaut John Glenn, the first American to go into orbit. At the time those deals were struck, the company was planning to start launching New Glenn in 2020.

Meanwhile, Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard program (named after Alan Shepard, the first NASA astronaut to take a suborbital rocket ride into space) is clicking along in West Texas. When Star Trek actor William Shatner and three other people were launched on New Shepard last month, Blue Origin said it was planning one more suborbital trip by the end of this year.

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The space company that Bezos founded in 2000 has been facing controversies relating to sexual harassment and safety issues, and last week a federal judge rejected Blue Origin’s challenge of a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract that NASA awarded to SpaceX. Nevertheless, it’s pushing ahead on projects including a follow-up lunar lander proposal, space resource extraction systems and the Orbital Reef space station concept.

At last report, Blue Origin has about 4,000 employees, with most of those based at the company headquarters in Kent, Wash. The company’s career website currently lists 1,270 open positions. One of the recently reported hires is Mark “Forger” Stucky, who earned his commercial astronaut wings with Virgin Galactic in 2018 — and whose employment there was terminated this year amid an uproar over critical comments he was quoted as making in a book about Virgin Galactic.

Stucky, who’s said to be involved with Blue Origin’s advanced development programs, tweeted out a couple of pictures from Cape Canaveral today, including this view of Blue Origin’s future Florida launch pad:

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