Blue Origin cleared to use historic rocket test stand

Test Stand 4670
A 1965 photo shows a Saturn V first-stage rocket engine being test-fired at Marshall Space Flight Center’s Test Stand 4670 in Alabama. Blue Origin has struck a deal with NASA to refurbish and use the facility, which has been inactive since 1998. (NASA Photo)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has signed an agreement with NASA for the use of a historic test stand at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Under the terms of a Commercial Space Launch Act agreement, Blue Origin will upgrade and refurbish Test Stand 4670 to support testing of its BE-3U and BE-4 rocket engines, NASA said today.

“This test stand once helped power NASA’s first launches to the moon, which eventually led to the emergence of an entirely new economic sector – commercial space,” NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard said in a news release. “Now, it will have a role in our ongoing commitment to facilitate growth in this sector.”

The 300-foot-tall, vertical firing test stand was built in 1965 to test rocket engines for NASA’s Saturn V rocket, and was later modified to support testing of the space shuttle external tank and main engine systems. It hasn’t been used since 1998.

NASA identified the test stand as an underused facility and posted a notice of availability in 2017 to gauge commercial interest in its use. Blue Origin responded to the notice, and a team was commissioned to explore a partnership.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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