Blue Origin BE-4 Rocket Engine Fact Sheet

Blue_Origin_BE-4_CharacteristicsBE-4 Rocket Engine — Fact Sheet
From Blue Origin

American Boost Propulsion System

The BE-4 is an American-made liquid rocket engine currently under development by Blue Origin for orbital launch vehicle boost applications. The BE-4 uses liquid oxygen (LOx) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) – a commercially available form of methane – to produce 550,000-lbf thrust at sea level.

Fully Funded Commercial Partnership

The BE-4 is a commercial development funded by private industry. United Launch Alliance (ULA) has partnered with Blue Origin to develop the BE-4 and ensure its applicability to ULA’s next generation launch vehicles, meeting both commercial requirements and those of the U.S. Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The BE-4 engine is designed for low recurring cost, using state-of-the-art design and manufacturing techniques.

Facilities Built & Testing Underway

To support development of the BE-4, Blue Origin has built a dedicated LNG testing facility near Van Horn, Texas, enabling a rapid test pace. Commissioned in May 2014, the LNG facility can test thrust levels greater than one million pounds-force.

Engine component testing is underway at Blue Origin test facilities in Kent, Washington, and Texas. Testing to date includes subscale oxygen-rich preburner development and staged combustion testing of the preburner and main injector assembly. The next major development milestone will be testing of the turbopumps and main valves. Full engine testing is scheduled to begin in 2016.

LNG Enhances Affordability, Reuse

Unlike other rocket propellants, such as kerosene, LNG enables autogenous tank pressurization, eliminating the need for costly and complex pressurization systems, such as helium, which is in increasingly scarce supply. The low-cost availability of LNG enables an extended engine development test program. Further, the gaseous properties of LNG simplify decontamination of the engine prior to vehicle installation, while improving operability and safe operation for reuse.

Builds on BE-3 Flight Heritage

Blue Origin also recently completed development testing of the BE-3 hydrogen-fueled engine which produces 110,000-lbf thrust at sea level. The BE-3 is the first completely new liquid hydrogen-fueled engine to be designed for production in the U.S. since the RS-68 more than a decade ago. Its high-performance, low-cost and reusability is well suited for boost, upper-stage and in-space applications on both government and commercial launch systems.

About Blue Origin

Blue Origin, LLC was established by Amazon.com CEO and founder Jeff Bezos with a bold vision of greatly increasing the number of people that fly into space so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system. Blue Origin is focused on developing vehicles and technologies to dramatically lower the cost and increase the safety of human spaceflight.

For more information and a list of job openings, please visit us at www.blueorigin.com

  • Chad Overton

    Wow this could be a step in the direction for the reusability of the Atlas V. Maybe in 3-4 yrs we will start seeing ULA doing soft landing splashdowns in the Atlanic as well! This could have a great effect if we have two launch providers that are in heated competition! Launch prices go down, business cases close, and suddenly we have a thriving space industry. Lets keep hope alive!

  • larryj8

    In terms of reusability, it seems unlikely they could use the same technique SpaceX is attempting. I doubt you could throttle down the engines enough to make a vertical landing. SpaceX’s first stage has nine engines and only uses one of them for landing (or so I’ve read) and that engine gets throttled down considerably.
    Changing engines, changing propellants, and higher thrust mean this would be a different rocket than the Atlas V. I wonder if anything will come of the effort XCor is making to develop a replacement engine for the RL-10 as well. RL-10s are very expensive (I’ve been told $10-20 million each).

  • Christopher James Huff

    It’s about half the thrust of the RD-180 the Atlas V uses now, so they’ll have two on the first stage. Two engines would make powered landings a bit awkward.

    If they can be throttled deeply enough, maybe they’ll use a row of three to allow landing the stage on the center engine, and use the extra thrust to bump up payload in an Atlas V-R v1.1.

  • Solartear

    The BE-3 could throttle to less than 1/4 of max thrust. With all the extra mass for reusability, methane, etc, a 3 engine configuration seems needed.

    If they can get similar throttlability as BE-3, then it would be getting close to thrust-to-weight ratio for Falcon 9 landing. This looks impressive, if they can do it.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    The Merlin 1D is 147,000 lbf, BE-4 is 550,000 lbf.
    Supersonic retro propulsion uses 3 Merlins, so that is plausible with one throttled BE-4. F9R uses one throttled Merlin for landing and it seems unlikely that BE-4 could throttle down 10-15%, but it would be nice to be proven wrong. Most likely, unless there are plans for a third “landing” engine, Atlas 6 will be expendable by design.

  • TimR

    Yeah, I’d agree with all the other replies. On top of that I’d add that while Boeing can still clearly command a 50+% premium for their services, there is nothing to push them to develop reusability. I think SpaceX has about a ten year ownership of this technology, maybe more.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    RL-10 on Atlas V makes 22,000 lbf. A throttled BE-3 could do a similar job and/or provide extra capability. Certainly sounds like this is being considered, at least by BO.

  • Wayne Martin

    This is all Good! Hopefully Blue has come up with a completely different plan for the Reusability equation…

    Methane seems the way to go for Reusability and that is no doubt why Blue is heading that way… I would suspect that we are not just looking at a new class of engines but of a new fuel that lends itself to multiple CH4LOX thrust class engines…

    I think Blue has given us Much Great insight into their on-going’s and I think we are not looking at a throttled 550,000 lbs methane engine but multiple engines…

    I believe this all stems from the need of a crew escape system and the necessity of a secondary thrust source as with the Dragon 2 design…

    This is going to be REALY COOL!

    Two Extreme Rival’s!!! Think “I think we are more likely to discover unicorns dancing in the flame duct” or Elon’s comment about Blue’s need for Pad 69a!

    Two methane engines starting at almost… if not the exact time within their development with two individual’s that can just make “That Call” without pushing through a mountain of bureaucracy

  • Pete Zaitcev

    You can land on Soyuz-style vernier engines. Or, use American way and land on parachutes like Kistler.

  • Chief Galen Tyrol

    If you’re going to land like Kistler, the trick is to never leave the ground.

  • Sam Moore

    This sheet says 2017, but ULA gave 2019 for flights of their launcher. Could this mean we should expect to see BO’s own launcher as soon as 2017?

  • Grant Kask

    So Atlas VI is looking like 2 BE4’s on the first stage of an Atlas V derived first stage with 1.1 million lbs thrust. What kind of performance to LEO can be had assuming
    1- A Centaur upper stage?
    2- Or possibly a BE3 dirived upper stage?

  • larryj8

    The BE-3 is an 100,000+ pound thrust engine. It would be massive overkill for an Atlas X upper stage. You can only throttle down liquid-fueled engines so far. For the CST-100 mission, they were planning on using two RL-10s on the upper stage. In that case, a BE-3 isn’t so bad. It might be better to use a derivative of the BE-3 scaled to 50,000 pounds of thrust.

  • Michael J. Listner

    Three years is an aggressive development schedule. It won’t have the juice of the RD-180, but 550,000 lbs at sea-level is still impressive.

  • Solartear

    No. ULA is going to build an expendable launcher basically as soon as the engines are ready. BO is seeking to build a much larger and fully reusable launcher, with no previous experience launching to space.

    BO is using the partnership to get extra funding and testing for their first generation engine.

  • Hug Doug

    that would depend entirely on the size of the LNG and LOX tanks in the first stage.

    this will be an entirely new rocket, so until further details are known, speculation will be just wild guesswork.

  • Hug Doug

    you can do a “hover-slam” type landing (where your thrust-weight ratio is greater than 1) without deep throttle ability. it would be a terrible nail-biter of a landing, with a very slim margin for error, but it’s possible.

  • Hug Doug

    you can do a “hover-slam” type landing (where your thrust-weight ratio is greater than 1) without deep throttle ability. it would be a terrible nail-biter of a landing, with a very slim margin for error, but it’s possible.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    Or you could land on vernier engines. I know this kind of design is out of fashion nowadays, but Soyuz-2.1v exists.
    n/m I see I made this point previously

  • Pete Zaitcev

    Do we know any basics like temperatures after preburner and after pumps, the chamber pressure? Tom Mueller once named all those for Merlin-1C and it was quite edifying.

  • Hug Doug

    that seems like it would be a bit of a rough landing for a first stage, though.

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