WASHINGTON -- In another step towards commercial launches of U.S. manned spacecraft, NASA said contractor Blue Origin successfully completed a rocket engine test firing as part of the space agency's commercial crew program.
Blue Origin, which was launched by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is competing with several other U.S. companies to take crews to the International Space Station. So far, Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX) is the only commercial contractor to have made unmanned supply flights to the station.
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NASA said Blue Origin (Kent, Wash.) fired the thrust chamber assembly on its 100,000-pound thrust BE-3 liquid oxygen-hydrogen rocket engine. The reusable booster is designed to launch into orbit a biconic-shaped spacecraft currently under development.
The successful test took place in early October on a test stand at NASA's Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss.
As part of the NASA commercial crew program, Blue Origin also completed a systems reqirement review of the proposed spacecraft. The test was designed to show that the spacecraft can meet safety and mission requirement for low-Earth orbit missions. Critics of the program have warned that NASA must ensure strict safety measures during development of commercial spacecraft given the inherent danger of manned spaceflight.
Blue Origin, SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corp. are all vying to take astronauts to the space station as part of the NASA program to replace the retired space shuttle.