Jeff Bezos geeks out over rocket drill machine

Image: EDM drill
Blue Origin’s EDM drilling machine works on a nozzle for the BE-4 rocket engine, currently under development at the company’s production facility in Kent, Wash. “Only 1,000 holes to go,” Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos writes. (Blue Origin Photo)

Building a rocket ship may sound romantic, but there are a lot of nitty-gritty details behind the work – and that’s what Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is celebrating in his latest email about Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine.

Blue Origin, the space venture that Bezos founded back in 2000, is building the engine for use on United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket as well as Blue Origin’s own New Glenn rocket. The plan is to start testing the engine early next year, and start flying the rockets by 2019.

There’s a bit of competitive pressure involved: United Launch Alliance has Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1 engine waiting in the wings, just in case Blue Origin and the BE-4 don’t hit their marks.

The BE-4 engine will be fueled by liquid natural gas, unlike the hydrogen-fueled BE-3 engine that Blue Origin is using on the suborbital New Shepard rocket ship that it’s testing in West Texas. It’s designed to produce 550,000 pounds of thrust, as opposed to 110,000 pounds of thrust for the BE-3.

That means new technologies have to be employed to build the BE-4 – and today, Bezos called attention to one of those technologies: the automated electrical discharge machining drill, or EDM.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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