Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine. COURTESY PHOTO, Blue Origin

Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine. COURTESY PHOTO, Blue Origin

United Launch Alliance picks Kent-based Blue Origin engine for rocket system

BE-4 engine beats out competitors

Colorado-based United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security, selected an engine from Kent-based Blue Origin to power its next-generation rocket known as the Vulcan Centaur.

ULA expects the rocket to make its initial flight in mid-2020 and announced Thursday it had picked Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for Vulcan Centaur’s booster stage, according to a ULA news release. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns Blue Origin.

“Vulcan Centaur will revolutionize spaceflight and provide affordable, reliable access to space for our current and future customers,” said Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO, in the news release. “We are well on our way to the introduction of Vulcan Centaur – the future of U.S. rocket manufacturing. With state-of-the-art engineering and manufacturing techniques, this rocket is designed specifically for low recurring cost.”

The new rocket design is nearing completion, and the booster preliminary design and critical design reviews have been completed. 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 currently available single-core launch vehicle.

“Our new rocket will be superior in reliability, cost and capability – one system for all missions,” said Bruno. “We have been working closely with the U.S. Air Force, and our certification plan is in place.”

Following completion of a competitive procurement, ULA selected Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine. The liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueled booster will be powered by a pair of BE-4 engines, each producing 550,000 pounds of sea level thrust. As previously announced, ULA has selected Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10 engine for the Centaur upper stage, Northrop Grumman solid rocket boosters, L‑3 Avionics Systems avionics, and RUAG’s payload fairings and composite structures for the new Vulcan Centaur rocket system.

“We are pleased to enter into this partnership with Blue Origin and look forward to a successful first flight of our next-generation launch vehicle,” Bruno said.

“We are very glad to have our BE-4 engine selected by United Launch Alliance. United Launch Alliance is the premier launch service provider for national security missions, and we’re thrilled to be part of their team and that mission,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said in the news release. “We can’t thank Tory Bruno and the entire United Launch Alliance team enough for entrusting our engine to powering the Vulcan rocket’s first stage.”

Vulcan Centaur will bolster U.S. manufacturing by adding to the more than 22,000 direct and indirect American jobs in 46 states supported by ULA programs.

“ULA has chosen the best systems available to create the Vulcan Centaur,” said Bruno. “These engines and components will ensure ULA continues to lead the way in space exploration, maintain our record of success and remain America’s launch vehicle for our nation’s most vital missions.”

As a result of these agreements, the Vulcan Centaur will surpass current rocket capabilities and launch services at significantly lower costs, while still meeting the requirements of ULA’s cooperative research and development agreement with the U.S. Air Force to certify the Vulcan Centaur for national security space missions.

“Strong partners are critical to the cutting-edge innovation that is leading us into the next generation in space and ensuring mission success,” Bruno said. “Partnerships with Blue Origin, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Northrop Grumman, L-3 Avionics Systems and RUAG will allow the Vulcan Centaur to transform the future of space launch for the government and commercial markets, making launch more affordable, accessible and commercially available.”

ULA has successfully delivered 130 satellites to orbit that provide Earth observation capabilities, enable global communications, unlock the mysteries of our solar system and support life-saving technology.

For more information, visit ulalaunch.com.

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