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updated 11/9/2005 3:07:12 PM ET 2005-11-09T20:07:12

The Seattle-based Blue Origin rocket company, bankrolled by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, plans to set up corporate headquarters and primary operations in the city of Kent, Wash., next year.

Secretive in their rocket work, Blue Origin is rumored to be engaged in developing a passenger-carrying vertical takeoff and landing rocket.

According to a recent statement from Kent’s mayor, Jim White, Blue Origin will house the rocket firm’s operations for research, design, manufacturing, assembly and testing in the city of 84,000 people, creating a capacity for up to 100 jobs. Kent is 18 miles (29 kilometers) south of Seattle and less than 5 miles (8 kilometers) from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Blue Origin executives anticipate that the company’s launch facility in West Texas, combined with its new Kent headquarters, will support the rocket group’s long-term mission, “to enable an enduring human presence in space.”

“We were won over by Kent’s attractive business climate,” Rob Meyerson, Blue Origin program manager, said in a press statement issued by the City of Kent. “It is centrally located with easy access to major transportation corridors.”

Kent’s proximity to Sea-Tac airport and its location as a mass transit hub was a factor in Blue Origin’s decision to establish its new headquarters in the city, White said.

Texas takeoffs
Earlier this year, details regarding Blue Origin’s rocket work were highlighted in public meetings held in Texas. The rocket company is building launch facilities in Culberson County, Texas, put in place to test a series of launch vehicles. The first vehicles in the series are being designed to take off and land vertically, carrying three or more astronauts to the edge of space, according to statements made at the time by Meyerson.

The launch site on privately owned property, taking up about 800 acres of the 167,000-acre Corn Ranch.

During the West Texas town meetings, Meyerson said Blue Origin anticipated beginning flight tests of its vehicle in the latter half of 2006 — a time frame that depends on readiness of the vehicle and launch site, he added.

Incremental construction of the launch site and facilities was to begin in early 2006, taking about a year to complete.

Flight testing would span three to five years, leading to regular commercial flights, Meyerson said. During the testing phase, he said that he anticipated launching less than 25 times a year.

Test program
According to a briefly posted document on the Blue Origin Web site, the group’s reusable launch vehicle would haul paying passengers on suborbital jaunts. The group’s spaceship would comprise a propulsion module and a crew capsule. Hydrogen peroxide and kerosene are to be used as propellants.

The booster would be fully reusable, flying autonomously under control of onboard computers. There would be no ground control during nominal flight conditions, the document explained.

Taking off vertically from a concrete pad, the craft would land vertically in an area near the launch site. That flight profile is similar to the trajectory flown by the Pentagon/NASA-sponsored Delta Clipper Experimental, or DC-X.

The DC-X was built under contract at McDonnell Douglas and repeatedly flew from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico starting in the early 1990s.

Once Blue Origin's technology has been thoroughly tested, passenger flight service using the reusable launch vehicle would occur at a maximum rate of 52 launches per year.

According to a Space.com source, Blue Origin has tested an unpiloted vertical-takeoff-and-landing platform, purportedly powered by four turbojets. Shakeout testing of the platform’s control system took place in central eastern Washington state, the source said.

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