Blue Origin scraps original recovery ship for New Glenn boosters
by Jeff Foust —
WASHINGTON — A large ship that Blue Origin planned to convert into a landing platform for New Glenn boosters is instead being sent to the scrapyard as the company changes its recovery plans.
Blue Origin acquired the Stena Freighter, a roll-on, roll-off cargo ship, in 2018. The company brought the ship to the Port of Pensacola in Florida to convert it into a landing platform for New Glenn first stages, and renamed the ship Jacklyn, after the mother of company founder Jeff Bezos, in late 2020.
Company executives touted the benefits of using a large ship like Jacklyn, more than 180 meters long and 25 meters across, to serve as a landing platform for New Glenn boosters, The ship could be underway during landings and provide greater stability in high seas than the autonomous droneships that SpaceX uses for landing Falcon boosters.
However, Blue Origin appeared to reconsider that approach earlier this year. Local media reported in April that the company appeared to be reevaluating the conversion of Jacklyn into a landing platform, although the company said at the time it had made no decisions about whether to continue that work.
On Aug. 14, Jacklyn was towed from the Port of Pensacola, bound for Brownsville, Texas. In a video released by the port, Clark Merritt, port director, said the ship would be scrapped in Brownsville because the process of converting the ship into a landing platform had gone too far to convert it back to a cargo vessel, but did not state why the conversion had stopped.
“Blue Origin is committed to safe and cost-effective access to space, and after careful consideration have made the decision to transition away from the Jacklyn as a landing solution,” a company spokesperson said Aug. 15.
Blue Origin did not disclose what alternatives it is considering, but is rumored to be considering versions of the barges used by SpaceX. The first New Glenn is expected some time in 2023, although the company has not provided a recent update on progress towards that first launch.
Blue Origin did not disclose how much it spent acquiring and converting Jacklyn before deciding to scrap it. Merritt said in the video that “tens of millions of dollars of work” was carried out at the port by Offshore Inland, the company responsible for the conversion, employing up to 150 people at its peak.
Jacklyn is scheduled to arrive at the Port of Brownsville Aug. 19, according to a vessel arrival chart by the port, which notes the ship will be scrapped. The port, ironically, is a short distance from SpaceX’s Starbase facility in Boca Chica, Texas, where the company is working on its Starship launch system.