Bezos' Blue Origin lands rocket engine contract from Lockheed, Boeing joint venture

Bezos' Blue Origin lands rocket engine contract from Lockheed, Boeing joint venture

Blue Origin's BE-4 engine has been selected by United Launch Alliance (ULA) to power the Vulcan Centaur rocket, the Kent company announced Thursday, Sept. 27. Vulcan Centaur will have a maximum liftoff thrust of 3.8 million pounds and carry 56,000 pounds to low Earth orbit, 33,000 pounds to a geo-transfer orbit and 16,000 pounds to geostationary orbit with greater capability than any now available single-core launch vehicle.

ULA has always been the primary-and for several years the sole-contractor for US military satellite launches, and the venerable Atlas V rocket the company built has put dozens of spy satellites into orbit. This booster is fuelled by LNG, and will be powered by two BE-4 engines, each of which will produce 550 000 pounds of sea level thrust. But Atlas V has a significant weakness that makes the military hesitate: its engines are built by Russian Federation. Paired with a Centaur upper stage, powered by Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10 engines, and Northrop Grumman solid rocket boosters, Vulcan will be able to place 56,000 pounds into low Earth orbit (LEO), 33,000 pounds into Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GEO), or 16,000 pounds into Geostationary Orbit (GEO).

Blue Origin's website says the BE-4 "will fly on United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket in 2019".

An engine for a new United Launch Alliance orbital rocket will be built in north Alabama. Blue Origin also intends to compete for national security launches - and could end up bidding against ULA.

Blue Origin, which has been developing the BE-4 since 2011, was up against engine maker Aerojet Rocketdyne, a company with more than 70 years of experience in propulsion, for the Vulcan engine contract. This month, Bezos said he'd be spending "just over a billion dollars" on the New Glenn program the next year.

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Swiss aerospace company RUAG, which operates within the ULA plant in Decatur, will provide payload fairings and composite structures for the Vulcan Centaur rocket, according to the announcement.

Both Vulcan and New Glenn are expected to launch sometime in 2020 from Cape Canaveral.

When Blue Origin announced plans for its Huntsville facility in June 2017, the company said the project would get underway as soon as ULA awarded it a contract.

The bespoke BE-4 engine will power the Vulcan rocket when it takes its maiden voyage in 2020.

ULA's president and CEO, Tory Bruno, said the Vulcan Centaur will revolutionize spaceflight.

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