January 25, 2019 – Blue Origin celebrated the official groundbreaking for its world-class rocket engine production facility today in Huntsville, Alabama. The plant will be built on 46 acres and employ more than 300 people to build the BE-4 engine.
The BE-4 is the most powerful liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueled rocket engine ever developed and is designed for both commercial and government missions. It was selected by United Launch Alliance (ULA) in September 2018 for use in the first stage of ULA’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket. The production of this engine will end the nation’s dependence on Russian RD-180 engines for critical national security space systems.
“It’s a great day here in Rocket City,” said Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin. “Thanks to the votes of confidence from United Launch Alliance, from the Air Force for national security missions, and from Huntsville and the state of Alabama, we are breaking ground on a facility to produce our world-class engines and power the next generation of spaceflight.”
“ULA’s Atlas and Delta rockets are the most successful space launch vehicles in history, having launched more than 130 mission with 100 percent mission success,” said ULA President and CEO, Tory Bruno. “Today we celebrate the culmination of those decades of knowhow and invention into the transition to our new Vulcan Centaur rocket.”
Using an oxygen-rich staged combustion cycle, BE-4 is capable of producing 2,447 kN (550,000 lbf) thrust with deep throttle capability. Each ULA Vulcan first stage will have two BE-4 engines. Seven BE-4’s, with a combined thrust of nearly 4 million pounds, will also power the fully reusable first stage of Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch system.
“These BE-4 engines will power launch systems to put everything from satellites and products into orbit to space tourists and perhaps even space settlers into the final frontier,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.
The Huntsville manufacturing plant is expected to open in 2020, and the first flight test of the new engine is expected in 2021. BE-4 is currently undergoing full-scale engine development testing at Blue Origin facilities in Van Horn, Texas.
In addition to the BE-4, Blue Origin will be building the BE-3U engine in Huntsville. BE-3U is an upper-stage variant of the BE-3 liquid oxygen-liquid hydrogen engine that is already being used to propel Blue Origin’s suborbital vehicle, New Shepard. New Shepard recently completed its 10th test flight, carrying NASA experiments into suborbital space. The company hopes to fly passengers on its New Shepard vehicle by the end of this year.