Tim Hinerman, Blue Origin’s deputy BE-4 engine lead

Tim Hinerman, deputy BE-4 engine lead

A lot is riding on upcoming tests of Blue Origin’s BE-4 liquefied natural gas and liquid oxygen engine. In addition to powering the firm’s future New Glenn orbital launch vehicle, the BE-4 is the leading contender for United Launch Alliance’s next generation Vulcan launcher. If the tests later this year at Blue Origin’s West Texas range prove its merit, the BE-4 could answer congressional calls for the U.S. to stop relying on Russian RD-180 engines for launches of military and intelligence community satellites on Atlas 5s. Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos has also indicated that his 1,000-person company in Kent, Washington, could work with NASA to create a lunar cargo delivery service called Blue Moon.

How did you become an aerospace engineer?

Most people in the space industry say that their love of space came at an early age. For me, this wasn’t the case. Growing up in a small town in Colorado, I didn’t have opportunities to be exposed to space travel until I was a bit older. I always thought airplanes and rockets were neat, but they seemed so unattainable for me — and I was quite happy with my Tonka trucks at the time. As I got older, I decided I wanted to become an engineer. Cars always interested me, and I had a passion for internal combustion engines. This drove me to get a degree at Colorado State University because they had one of the best internal combustion engine programs in the country.

As my studies progressed, and my mind was opened, I began to see new avenues where I could apply my expertise. I switched my focus to aircraft, rockets and space — and was starting to finally become a space nut.

Now, I work at Blue Origin whose mission is to have millions of people living and working in space. Each step I have taken has led me to work for a company that is full of pioneers (and space nuts). I am proud to call myself one of them. In hindsight, my passion for cars and choice to study internal combustion was perfect because it’s all about creating reliable systems, which is critical for reusability. To enable low-cost access to space, we need to create reusable launch systems, which is what I get the pleasure of doing every day at Blue Origin.

Imagine the world in 2050. What do you think will be happening in space?

I am truly excited for the space flight revolution; a day when we make space truly accessible for everyone — just like aviation. It wasn’t easy then, and it will not be easy now, but we need an incremental approach to make it happen.

My goal before I retire is to get space access to the point that the next generations of engineers will have to choose between optimizing space access or solving the next big technical problem. Just as engineers today focus on optimizing internal combustion engines, I want to see a future where engineers are optimizing space technologies that support the infrastructure of millions of people living and working in space.

By the end of my career, I want space access to be just as routine as aviation is today. Suborbital and low Earth orbit access should be a weekly, if not daily occurrence. Access to the moon, Mars and beyond should be within reach and we will be actively operating elsewhere in the solar system.

Tim Hinerman, Blue Origin’s deputy BE-4 engine lead