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Sooo loud! Blue Origin’s rocket engine tests rattling Huntsville

Historic NASA test stand 4670 looms against the sky in Huntsville, Ala. New space company Blue Origin is refurbishing the stand to use in testing its new rocket engines. (Lee Roop/
February 03, 2024

Blue Origin, the rocket company owned by Jeff Bezos, has been making noise testing a big new rocket engine on Redstone Arsenal and Huntsville is loving it.

For older residents of the Rocket City, this month’s long, loud test fire, the latest in a series of engine tests, was an echo of the 1960s when NASA tested Saturn V engines in the same test stand.

Blue Origin has modified and renovated the historic stand under an arrangement with NASA. Because of its bottomless water supply from the Tennessee River, the stand is a famously safe way to fire a rocket engine and flood it in seconds if needed.

For some who heard, the test was one of those “I wasn’t expecting that” moments that remind the area that the Rocket City nickname means what it says. Military, NASA and private companies have all tested rocket engines at the test stands or elsewhere on the base under the supervision of the Redstone Test Center.

Kent Lyman of Huntsville said on Facebook that he timed the test fire. “About 7½ minutes,” Lyman said. “Longest I’ve ever heard!”

“I’m in west Huntsville it was loud!” Steve Bradford also said on Facebook.

“Agreed!!,” replied Traci Bishop Clark. “I didn’t know what was happening, sooo loud!!”

“Longest test I have ever heard, and I’ve been in this neighborhood for 60 years,” Mary Ann Porter Burns replied.

“Lol I rolled down my window to make sure a 737 wasn’t about to crash on top of me,” Micheal Cooke said.

Blue Origin builds rocket engines in Huntsville at a large plant in Cummings Research Park. For the company, it’s a combination with test capability on the arsenal, its own engine factory nearby and United Launch Alliance, a commercial rocket builder and potential engine customer, a few miles away on the Tennessee River.

North Alabama might become even more important to Blue Origin. December reports in financial news publications said the company owned by Jeff Bezos has shown interest in possibly buying ULA itself. That would put the company’s engine manufacturer, Arsenal test stand and rocket builder all within 20 miles of each other in north Alabama.

The test was announced in advance by Redstone Arsenal. “NOISE ALERT: The rumble you’ll hear today (Monday, Jan. 22) is the sound of a rocket engine hotfire testing at Redstone Arsenal,” one Facebook post said.

Afterward, people posted their neighborhoods on social media to give an idea how far the rocket was heard. The test, called the “Queen Mother of burns” by one poster, was heard in Hampton Cove across a mountain and the city from the test stand.

“We are by Gate 7,” Jamie Nave Granziano said on Facebook, referring to an entry and exit gate on the Arsenal’s west side, “we HHHEEAAARRRDDDDDD IIIITTTTTTT!!”

Blue Origin is involved in several facets of space travel. The company launches commercial astronauts to the International Space Station and paying customers who want to experience short-term space flight.

“Project Kuiper” is Bezos’ plan to launch “thousands” of broadband satellites into low Earth orbit linked to ground antenna and designed to connect people in countries with no reliable Internet connections.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX company has a similar fleet of communication satellites called Starlink circling the Earth and linking places previously out of reach of the Internet.

NASA had to move Saturn V and later engine tests to south Mississippi after noise from the big rocket’s engines famously rattled pictures on walls in Huntsville.


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