BE-4 Rocket Engine to Power Vulcan Next Generation Launch System

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United Launch Alliance Selects BE-4 Rocket Engine over Russian Rivals

Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin's BE-4

Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin's BE-4 Rocket Engine. Credit: Space.com

The US United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the Blue Origin company have signed a production agreement to expand production capabilities for the American-made BE-4 (Blue Engine 4) rocket engine that will power the Vulcan next generation launch system.

The agreement was announced last Thursday, September 10, 2015 in an effort to explain the selection of the BE-4 engine over its rival Russian-manufactured RD-180, the rocket engine model currently powering ULA's Atlas existing launch systems.

ULA and Blue Origin LLC announced the signing of an agreement to expand production capabilities for the American-made BE-4engine that will power the Vulcan next generation launch system," the two companies stated in a press release.

In the press release issued September 10, ​ULA explained the selection of the BE-4 over its Russian rival, the RD-180:

The BE-4 engine offers the fastest path to a domestic alternative to the Russian RD-180.

Development is on schedule to achieve qualification for flight in 2017 to support the first Vulcan flight in 2019, the press release added.

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.

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In the press release, Blue Origin President and CEO  Tony Bruno claimed Blue Origin would introduce innovative engineering concepts that could lower the cost of spaceflight. Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin's founder and co-founder of Amazon.com, added:

The BE-4 engine test program is well underway with more than 60 staged-combustion tests already on the books. This new agreement is an important step toward building BE-4s at the production rate needed for the Vulcan launch vehicle.

The BE-4 is a liquid oxygen, liquefied natural gas 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, according to the press release.

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