Media reports indicate that United Launch Alliance (ULA) has decided to partner with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin company to produce a liquid-oxygen/methane engine to power the first stage of the Atlas V booster. An announcement is expected on Wednesday.
[Update: ULA and Blue Origin will have a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday at 1 p.m.]
In June, ULA announced it had signed multiple study contracts with American rocket manufacturers for a replacement for the Russian-supplied RD-180 engine. The company said it planned to make a decision by the fourth quarter of this year.
Replacing the RD-180 engine has become a priority as relations have deteriorated between the United States and Russia over the Ukraine conflict. ULA wants whatever engine it selects to be ready to fly no later than 2019.
Space News reports that during a recent gathering of government and industry officials to discuss development of a domestic replacement, Blue Origin had made a very specific recommendation about the type of engine to develop:
Representatives from Blue Origin, the Kent, Washington, firm bankrolled by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, said the Air Force also should consider a liquid-oxygen/methane engine. Brooke Crawford, a spokeswoman for Blue Origin, declined to comment.
Blue Origin is not the only company working on a LOX/methane engine. Rival SpaceX is developing its Raptor engine for use in the company’s super-heavy booster designed to send humans to Mars.