[Via Satellite 09-11-2015] United Launch Alliance (ULA) and Blue Origin have signed a new agreement to expand production capabilities for the American-made BE-4 engine that will power the Vulcan next generation launch system. Under development by Blue Origin for more than three years, the BE-4 is to replace the Russian-built RD-180 engine currently used in the Atlas 5 rocket. Testing of BE-4 components is ongoing at Blue Origin’s test facilities in West Texas.
“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 5 on its first flight and open brand new opportunities for the nation’s use of space,” said Tory Bruno, president and CEO of ULA.
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 of thrust at liftoff. The Vulcan rocket combines features from the Atlas and Delta vehicles into one launch system with the aim of ending U.S. reliance on Russia for national security launches and simultaneously lowering the cost of launches for ULA. Development is on schedule to achieve qualification for flight in 2017 to support the first Vulcan flight in 2019.
“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.”