September 10, 2015 – Centennial-based United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Blue Origin, LLC, a privately-funded aerospace company owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, announced today the signing of an agreement to expand production capabilities for the American-made BE-4 engine that will power the Vulcan next generation launch system.
This agreement comes a few days after Reuters and Wall Street Journal announced that Aerojet Rocketdyne, a competitor to Blue Origin, had offered $2 billion to buy ULA. If successful, the deal would create a new large firm that builds both rockets and rocket engines.
ULA has faced mounting political and financial pressures due to a congressional ban on Russian-built RD-180 rocket engines for the Atlas 5 rocket. The ban was imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
ULA has said repeatedly that the BE-4 engine offers the fastest path to a domestic alternative to the Russian engine. Development is on schedule to achieve qualification for flight in 2017 to support the first Vulcan flight in 2019.
“This agreement gets us closer to having an affordable, domestic and innovative engine that will help the Vulcan rocket exceed the capability of the Atlas V on its first flight and open brand new opportunities for the nation’s use of space,” said Tory Bruno, president and chief executive officer of ULA. “This partnership enables each company to leverage its strengths, with ULA bringing production excellence and mission assurance, and Blue Origin bringing innovative engineering concepts and a commitment to lowering the cost of spaceflight.”
“The BE-4 engine test program is well underway with more than 60 staged-combustion tests already on the books,” said Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin. “This new agreement is an important step toward building BE-4s at the production rate needed for the Vulcan launch vehicle.”
The Vulcan Rocket brings together decades of experience on ULA’s reliable Atlas and Delta vehicles, combining the best features of each to produce an all-new, American-made rocket that will enable mission success from low Earth orbit all the way to Pluto.
The BE-4 is a liquid oxygen, liquefied natural gas (LNG) rocket engine that delivers 550,000-lbf of thrust at sea level. Two BE-4s would power each ULA Vulcan booster, providing 1,100,000-lbf thrust at liftoff. ULA is teaming in the development of the BE-4 to enable availability for national security, civil, human and commercial missions. Development of the BE-4 engine has been underway for more than three years and testing of the BE-4 components is ongoing at Blue Origin’s test facilities in West Texas.