Charon is an early, low-altitude test vehicle developed by Blue Origin of Kent, Washington. With its vertically oriented jet engines, Charon served as a precursor to the company’s development of a family of reusable space launch vehicles. These vehicles will use rocket engines to lift off vertically, fly to space, then return to again use their rocket engines in a carefully controlled powered vertical landing.
Built by a small team at Blue Origin, the Charon vehicle consists of a welded aluminum airframe holding four Rolls-Royce Viper Mk.301 jet engines. Charon’s direction of travel was controlled by redirecting the thrust from these engines. Four jointed legs serve as landing gear.
Blue Origin successfully flew Charon at Moses Lake, Washington on March 5, 2005. The fully autonomous vehicle flew to an altitude of 316 feet (96.3 m) before returning to a controlled landing near its liftoff point. Blue Origin continues to use processes developed on the Charon project in building and testing its more advanced rocket-powered vehicles today, including the New Shepard family of suborbital vehicles.