Blue Origin to Manufacture BE-4 Engines in Huntsville

BE-4 engines (Credit: Blue Origin)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce PR) — Blue Origin announced plans to manufacture its BE-4 engine in a state-of-the art production facility to be built in Huntsville, Alabama — the Rocket City.The new facility will be in Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second-largest research park, and construction can begin once an engine production contract with United Launch Alliance is awarded. The BE-4 is America’s next rocket engine and will power United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, once down-selected. The production of this engine would end the nation’s dependence on Russia for access to space for critical national security space systems.

Two BE-4s would be used on the Vulcan booster rocket. The BE-4 will also power Blue Origin’s New Glenn reusable launch system with seven BE-4s on the reusable first stage and a vacuum-optimized BE-4U on New Glenn’s second stage. Blue Origin awaits the final public approval processes of the local package by the City and County governments during their respective July meetings.

Using the latest design and manufacturing techniques, the BE-4 is made for both commercial and government missions. The BE-4 uses oxygen-rich staged combustion of liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas to produce 550,000 lb. of thrust. Development of the BE-4 began in 2011. Testing of the BE-4 is currently underway.

“Alabama is a great state for aerospace manufacturing and we are proud to produce America’s next rocket engine right here in Rocket City,” said Robert Meyerson, President of Blue Origin. “The area’s skilled workforce and leading role in rocket propulsion development make Huntsville the ideal location for our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility.”

Blue Origin will employ up to 342 people in this new facility. The company will make approximately $200 million in capital investment in the state.

“This announcement today is excellent news for our state. I am pleased to see Blue Origin investing in Alabama, and I look forward to working with them and other businesses to continue boosting economic development opportunities,” commended U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.

The announcement took place at the historic Davidson Center for Space Exploration under the Saturn V rocket, a nod to the community’s aerospace heritage. Blue Origin builds on that aerospace heritage and positions the Huntsville/Madison County community in the commercial space industry.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said of the announcement, “We are excited to welcome Blue Origin to Alabama. I must commend founder Jeff Bezos and company President Robert Meyerson for their vision to create this innovative company, and for choosing to make Alabama its home sweet home! Because of this investment, more Alabamians can provide a better living for their families, and it helps cement Alabama as the preferred destination for the aerospace industry.”

Many economic development partners contributed to the effort to successfully recruit Blue Origin to the state. These partners include the Governor’s office, the Alabama Department of Commerce, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the City of Huntsville, Madison County, and the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.

“Blue Origin’s decision to locate its BE-4 engine manufacturing center in Huntsville reflects the deep and longstanding capabilities in the city that became the cradle of the nation’s rocket program,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Huntsville is a hub of innovation in every facet of aerospace, making it the perfect home for this Blue Origin facility.”​

Blue Origin chose Huntsville, Alabama for this project because of the high-tech aerospace manufacturing workforce and ecosystem, including NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, nearly 300 private aerospace and defense contractors, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, number 14th in NASA research funding in the nation.

“Huntsville is proud to be the nation’s propulsion center of excellence, and we couldn’t ask for a better partner than Blue Origin to join our team. When you look at NASA’s visionary work at the Marshall Space Flight Center, the talent and capacity of Huntsville’s space industry partners, and our expertise in research and development, engineering, and manufacturing, Blue Origin is joining a truly remarkable environment,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

“Today’s announcement ensures that our community will continue to be at the center of the world’s rocket propulsion development. Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin will build on the legacy of the German rocket team and the Marshall Space Flight Center to power the growing commercial rocket business that will be a critical part of our nation’s future space program,” stated Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong.

In support of Blue Origin, the City of Huntsville, City of Madison, and Madison County have provided funding for their three school systems to launch an experiment on a Blue Origin rocket in Summer 2018. The school systems will determine how to select teams, and then they will work with the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber and Dream Up, an organization that supports space-based learning, to design and develop their payload.

“Blue Origin reinforces our regions’ place as the Rocket City, and a center of excellence for rocket propulsion. Blue Origin’s presence will have a positive impact on our State, our region and our community,” said Chip Cherry, President and CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber. “This is an important development for Cummings Research Park’s next era of expansion and we look forward to a long and productive relationship with Blue Origin.”

For more information about this announcement, Huntsville/Madison County’s propulsion expertise, and local job opportunities, please visit www.hsvchamber.org/rocketcity and follow #rocketcity on social media.

About Blue Origin

Blue Origin, LLC (Blue Origin) is a private company developing vehicles and technologies to enable commercial human space transportation. Blue Origin has a long-term vision of greatly increasing the number of people that fly into space so that we humans can better continue exploring the solar system. For more information and a list of job openings, please visit us at www.blueorigin.com.

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  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I guess we see how Bezos plans to kill SLS softly. So far it looks as if Space X is going to come to the table with an operational vehicle and the bludgeon of a plethora of payloads to fly in it. So we get to see what will work, the brute force of a funded, operational vehicle already serving customers, or the game of feeding the beast of political patronage. What fascinating times.

  • Carlton Stephenson

    So we have something blue, something new, and this as the old: “production can begin once a contract is signed with ULA” so all we need now is the something borrowed. What a match!

    But hell, I still have to ask: isn’t New Glenn going to use these engines too? Why is it dependent on a ULA contract? Is that the condition for building it in Alabama? Wow!

  • I think this is more of a move to kill the AR-1 softly.

  • This way Alabama wins no matter what – BE-4 or AR-1. It TOTALLY diffuses the political considerations. It’s actually a pretty smart move.

  • Tom Billings

    Killing the AR-1 is the first Act in the play. The interesting part comes in Act 2. A large part of what allows SpaceX to build launchers at lower costs is ignoring the “suggestions” of the political lordlings about who should get subcontracts. That adherence to their “suggestions”, after all, is a large part of the political benefit to pols of Northern Alabama and other LBJian politicians in the aerospace contracting game. If BO uses *only* performance, on schedule, quality, and price, as their measure for decisions here, then they will ruffle quite a few feathers, at best.

    The key question is whether BO will start/has started building a supply network that is *not* beholden to making sure the funders of cost+ contracts are happy. If so, then over the next 10 years they can pull the Northern Alabama space community out from under their subservience to the lords of cost+. If not, then there is vast danger of BO slipping into becoming yet another vassal in the politically assigned wealth transfer scheme that Congress has built into DoD and NASA contracting over the last 70 years. Will the Bezos fortune prevent this? At least in the short-term it will. The more bending at scraping to the lords of cost+ that is done in the next 60 months, the harder it will be for even that fortune to avoid developing a culture that does it by reflex.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    But what is AR-1 really a threat to? AR-1 is too wimpy for Atlas V, and it’s the wrong fuel for the next generation of boosters.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    It make sense for Blue to set up the BE-4 production line in Alabama. After all the Stennis center is close by to test the BE-4 and pickup political support from Mississippi.

    Also implicated in the announcement is that Blue could set up BE-4 production elsewhere if there is no ULA contract.

  • JamesG

    That is a good point. Bezos is tying his rocket to the odious MIC cart. It will be interesting to see who wags whom.

  • Carlton Stephenson

    Only politically. If Bezos intends to hold the New Glenn engines hostage to a ULA contract, it’s not smart at all. It would mean his priority structure is ‘old space’ and all his talk about millions of people living and working in space was bs. Here’s hoping New Glenn would not have to wait on whatever happens with ULA because it would be really disappointing to see the only other company with the hot new product…lacking in the hot new spirit.

  • Paul_Scutts

    Agreed, James, Bruno, ULA, Boeing, LM etc., you know what the Good Book says, “bad associations (can) spoil useful habits”. Regards, Paul.

  • Tom Billings

    That won’t keep Senator Shelby from pushing money into AR-1 to keep jobs inside Alabama. The BO move will bring BE-4 jobs into Alabama to compensate for losing AR-1 jobs. While this won’t make AJR happy, the Alabama delegation will be at least deeply split in its resistance, since votes from happy job-holders are the currency that keeps them in office. Of course, some will want to keep the current AR-1 money flowing *anyway*, but at worst that will peter out when BE-4 becomes a new standard, while ULA and others are free to pick BE-4 without “repercussions” from Senator Shelby, et al.

    At least that’s what the BO strategy looks like from here.

  • Tom Billings

    No reason to believe that BE-4 is dependent on Vulcan. It was started before Vulcan, and got ULA money specifically because they were already so far ahead in development. As I pointed out below, the real danger is in long-term company cultural influences, if ULA remains tied to the lords of cost+, and drag BO into that swamp alongside local contractors they start using in Northern Alabama, who long ago bent the knee to Senator Shelby.

  • Hypx

    I get the feeling Blue Origin is more interested in selling engines than achieving any particular goal. They’re also selling the BE-3U to Orbital ATK after all.

  • Carlton Stephenson

    Not the BE-4 itself but its commercial production, and not on Vulcan but on a contract from ULA. It is clear that Blue origin is ‘playing the game’ with this announcement, but if this contract is delayed for whatever reason, then (according to this Blue Origin announcement) so is the commercial production of the BE-4, and by extension, the New Glenn, the much more interesting vehicle. That doesn’t sound right coming from Blue Origin. Nor does separate production lines for the BE-4.

    ULA clearly prefers this engine for the Vulcan, and proclaimed it was a done deal if the last BE-4 test went well. But as we know, the test didn’t. So this sop to the political selectors maybe helps the marriage to proceed. Point being, there is no reason to expect the contract won’t come and the commercial production of the BE-4 will see delays as a result. I just wish Blue Origin were more like ‘this engine is happening for the Glenn one way or another’ as opposed to ‘construction can begin once an engine production contract with United Launch Alliance is awarded.’

  • Carlton Stephenson

    There you go. Exactly my impression.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Yea! Millions living in space. Right! Snort! Think 50 million dollars just to put one space tourist on a Soyuz a few years ago. 50 million times a million people is 50 trillion dollars. And with inflation never ceasing to up the bill. Even if spread out over a generational 40 years, the sum divided among 200 million taxpayers is a staggering minimum of $5,000 dollars+ per taxpayer per year…You got that amount saved up to pay Uncle Sam every year?

  • Carlton Stephenson

    Ask Bezos. He said it.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    I wouldn’t trust you with my money after your quip.

  • Richard Malcolm

    If I were an Aerojet executive today, I’d still be at the bar.

  • Tom Billings

    Jacob, you seem to be doing your calculations with no reference to the difference in costs, instead of price. The *price* of the Russian space tourist launches was started at $20 million, and advanced to $50 million, when no one else entered the market for year after year. The Russian’s own internal *costs* to do this were far less than $20 million. It was estimated that internal costs for a Soyuz launch were around $6-10 million, and there are 3 seats, though usually only one is a tourist. However, without reusability for Soyuz, there is no way to cut those costs further. They already pay their engineers a pittance.

    Blue Origin has good reason to believe that they can duplicate, and better, the current SpaceX internal costs, by extending reusability, just as SpaceX intends to do. Why then do you scoff at the idea of dropping costs combining with competition to lower prices further? Neither SpaceX nor BO will have the monopoly that Roscosmos has enjoyed since 2011.

    Even with the crew on BO’s New Shepard capsule, they should be able to divide costs by 5 or so. If their announced goals of 25 reuses are met, then the internal cost of their New Glen could be divided nicely by 125, once they extend reuse to their second stage. If New Glenn still costs as much as a Falcon Heavy, which I doubt it will, its per seat cost could be dropped below $1 million, even with only a capsule holding the 6 crew of a New Shepard. This doesn’t begin to look at whatever their plans for New Armstrong are.

    Is it that you think that SpaceX and BO won’t compete, or that others won’t join the competition? Given what drives their principals, I would doubt that deeply. Given competition to drop prices down nearer costs, I see no reason why millions cannot afford to go as far as HEO destinations like EML-1. There are already millions of millionaires in the world.

  • JamesG

    So… we are really whining that a Neu Space Company is actually going to produce some revenue and actually make a meaningful impact in aerospace instead of being perpetually in “development” and promising to do things?

  • IamGrimalkin

    Well, for a million people, $1 million a seat is still $1 trillion, which is still a lot if it is paid by the American government.

    The thing is, my understanding of Bezos’ statement is that he isn’t talking about it being funded by the US government. He talks about people living and working in space, which indicates the cost of them living in space would come from the salary they earn up there. (And of course, there is no indication this vision would be restricted to Americans).

    It still seems a bit of a stretch to me, but them I’m not Jeff Bezos.

  • Steve Ksiazek

    I believe I read that Marshall is located right in Huntsville. They might have a free test stand or two for BO to use. Plus, I would think it might be nice to cozy up to a NASA facility if you are trying to win their business. The only logistics question is, who is going to use more BE-4 engines, ULA or BO ? If New Glenn only launches once or twice per year, then they don’t need so many engines, especially with re-use. But ULA has reuse of the engines way down the line, so they will be consuming them at a much higher rate.

  • jimmycrackcorn

    BE-4 happens either way. Just different quantities, obviously.

  • Tom Billings

    Yes, …the core of Jacob’s comment seems to be in assuming, still, that spaceflight will always be a government activity. I see no reason to assume it will, outside of a full-blown statist assault by Congress. Forestalling those who might lead such an assault is the best reason Bezos has for moving production to Huntsville.

    In addition, what I left unsaid, in the interest of whatever brevity I can achieve, is that these are *not* the *last* drops in price, but merely the first of many. Millions of people need not pay a $million price, because by the time traffic gets that large, the prices will drop a great deal lower, through competitive pressure from other entrants to the market.

  • Tom Billings

    Yup! BO is steered by a dreamer who need not pay attention to a Board of Directors, like the one dominated by congressional serfs that poor Tory Bruno has to get agreement from.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Your wishful thinking seems to be based on a historical analogy of colonization of North America 400 years ago, It won’t work!…Ships of wood and sail loaded with colonists were cost effective; none of the sailing ships
    discarded their propulsion systems; the propulsion system being the entire, totally reusable sailing ship. And the ratio of colonists on board to the mass of the totally reusable sailing ship was something like 200 colonists per 200 tons of ship. A New Glenn booster will discard/use up most of its hundreds of tons of mass to put a handful of people in orbit. Any space capitalist of a right mind knows that to start up what will end up a massive industrial effort in space (i.e. mining asteroids for precious or strategic metals; and or making enormous city-sized solar panels in HEO to provide electricity for Earth-bound consumers) demands a RELIABLE MARKET, freedom from legal or social activist hassles, SAFE, REUSABLE and RELIABLE space transport technology, a MINIMUM of employees in space (a handful), a MAXIMUM of AUTOMATION, including Earth-bound telepresence and remote-control.
    To quote the late Senator William Proxmire (who remarked on a now defunct and at the time an extremely ambitious space project) “Not one penny for this nutty fantasy!”

  • Jacob Samorodin

    It won’t be funded by the US government? Jeff Bezos won’t be the first billionaire to approach the U S government seeking a large handout or loan (which may never be paid off).

  • Jacob Samorodin

    Huh? When millionaire space tourists flew into orbit, the Russian government and the RKA relied on the millionaires to pay their way. Russian taxpayers’ money usually went elsewhere during the Yeltsin era.

  • Carlton Stephenson

    Hah! Who in Blue’s class is ‘perpetually in development and promising to do things’ but NOT producing revenue and making a hell of an impact?

    James, the revenue will come anyway because they have the industry leading product, but to make a meaningful impact takes disruptive intent of the kind that is already underway – and dammit I’m not getting that level of interest from Blue. No interest in national security launches, no interest in getting ahead (we’ll get there when we get there). Here’s a thoroughbred who has the legs to give SpaceX fits but chooses to trot along with the cart horses, among whom it seems more comfortable. And who have the industry leading tech but will not join the leadership, determined instead to play a supporting role to lessers. Bleh!

    So there, in a conch shell, is the reason for my whine. Don’t promise if you don’t want to, freeze early if you wish, but stop shuffling with geriatrics and get on with making the impact.

  • duheagle

    No question there will be two very different cultures rubbing up against each other in Huntsville. It’s by no means clear that the currently dominant culture will absorb the newcomers. Depending upon just how things go over the next few years, the absorption might be in the opposite direction.

    Suppose, as seems likely, ULA’s AR-1/BE-4 decision goes to BE-4. Simplest outcome? The previously announced AR-1 plant disappears, setting the stage for a disappearing act by the rest of AJR not too far down the road. Both could well happen. If that seems imminent, there are two plausible paths forward, given that ULA needs RL-10’s and maybe even RS-68A’s for awhile yet and that SLS needs both RL-10’s and RS-25E’s:

    (1) Most plausible – AJR is acquired for a fire sale price by ULA. ULA keeps the RL-10 and RS-68A facilities. Under political pressure, it also agrees to keep AJR’s RS-25E contract for SLS. Everything else AJR is sold off or shut down and liquidated. The Bruno flag flies over the remnant. AJR’s current management are cashiered en masse. Like Mormons on bicycles, Bruno-ist acolytes from CO and AL descend on Sacto and Canoga Park to spread the Gospel According to Tory to the Old Space heathen. The message? Repent or die! With its biggest current cost-of-production factors now in its own hands, ULA ruthlessly streamlines the production economics of the engines it still needs and of the nascent RS-25E.

    Probable collateral damage? XCOR. If ULA owns RL-10 and can get its economics in line, it will have no need for XCOR’s new engine. XCOR then either figures out some way to revive Lynx or, more likely, goes to join its ancestors.

    (2) Less Plausible: AJR goes for a Hail Mary and agrees to barter RL-10’s and RS-68A’s in return for future rights to the Atlas 5 line at Decatur. To keep going in the meantime, it uses its political connections to get more up-front money to work on its RS-25E contract for SLS and keep the RL-10 line open for SLS and its own future Atlas 5’s after ULA fully cedes the product line. LockMart and Boeing, understanding that a prompt AJR implosion would also doom SLS – a game in which both have considerable skin – agree to the deal. LockMart may manage to keep at least some future interest in Atlas 5.

    ULA would have more mixed feelings about deal (2) than deal (1). It would save a great deal of sturm und drang not to have to liquidate the Atlas 5 line, but doing so as per scenario (2) also leaves a revised Atlas 5 around as competition for Vulcan. Unless ULA was very confident it could beat the AJR Atlas 5 with Vulcan, it would likely far prefer to take what’s behind door number (1).

  • JamesG

    But… Gradatim Ferociter!

    “Who in Blue’s class is ‘perpetually in development and promising to do things’ but NOT producing revenue and making a hell of an impact?”

    SLS?

  • Carlton Stephenson

    😀 ;D 😀

  • IamGrimalkin

    Well that’s the implication. If someone starts talking about industry moving into space you would expect them to be talking about it paying for itself, wouldn’t you?

  • redneck

    Check your analogies. A transatlantic capable sailing ship was a greater percentage of the 4 centuries back GNP that spaceship is of today’s. The cost of a sailing ship, relative to the national economy at the time was huge.

  • Tom Billings

    “No interest in national security launches, ….”

    “When ye take the King’s shilling, ye take ‘im as Lord O’ yer life!”

    The DoD contracting game is a worse risk for cultural contamination by the cost+ contractor/comgressional culture than NASA. Bezos may have simply decided to rule that out. In the long-term it will be corporate culture that determines where the attention of the Firm is, as well as having the attention of the Firm affecting the corporate culture. It’s a question of which risks you take.

    If Bezos is really interested in getting a spacefaring civilization going, then he won’t want to be cuddly with a Congress that sees *no* political profit from it.

  • Tom Billings

    Jacob, you seem to have a class bigotry problem going on here. Most billionaires got their money by providing good services. Certainly Bezos has. Jeff Bezos has stated rather clearly what his goals are. If you want to be taken seriously here, you should list reasons beyond “Those XXXXX are liars just looking for government money”. I object to the politics displayed by WaPo as much as any other Tea Party attendee, but I see no reason to believe its owner is not serious about private civil spaceflight.

    Admittedly, that last may have a lot to do with me agreeing that his *lack* of a “one and only next step” attitude, so common elsewhere in the space community.

  • Tom Billings

    “It won’t work!…Ships of wood and sail loaded with colonists were cost effective; none of the sailing ships discarded their propulsion systems; the propulsion system being the entire, totally reusable sailing ship.”

    Which is why people like me have been trying to get people to build reusable cheap, effective Earth-to-Orbit launchers since the mid-1960s. Congressional committee chairs see far more political profit in expensive shuttle flights, so they won’t do what is needed. That leaves dreamers from the business community, like Musk and Bezos.

    ” A New Glenn booster will discard/use up most of its hundreds of tons of mass to put a handful of people in orbit.”

    And the steamships that brought most immigrants to North America used up all their coal getting here as well. My McKenzie grandfather came here on one that ran out of coal, about 8 miles outside NY harbor, and had to be towed into port. Everyone knows that all the propellants will be used up, Jacob. Propellants are .2 percent of the cost of an orbital launch. The rest is in the building of the rocket and its operational costs. That propellant cost is not a determining number for feasibility.

    “Any space capitalist of a right mind knows that to start up what will
    end up a massive industrial effort in space (i.e. mining asteroids for
    precious or strategic metals; and or making enormous city-sized solar
    panels in HEO to provide electricity for Earth-bound consumers) demands a
    RELIABLE MARKET, freedom from legal or social activist hassles, SAFE,
    REUSABLE and RELIABLE space transport technology, a MINIMUM of employees
    in space (a handful), a MAXIMUM of AUTOMATION, including Earth-bound
    telepresence and remote-control.”

    Yes, and Jeff Bezos has said as much himself. That is not an argument against him providing part of the solution (safe, reusable, reliable space transport technology). Why do think that is an argument against his endeavors? Because he does not intend to do it all, …in one swell foop!???

  • Carlton Stephenson

    “When ye take the King’s shilling…”

    You guys are cracking me up! 😀

  • Tom Billings

    Yes, Jacob, the millionaires paid their own way. We knew that then, and now. That does not boost the rest of your arguments, which amount to saying Jeff Bezos cannot build a road, because it requires asphalt from one place, and gravel from another, and cars to drive on it from other places. He’s going to build a road, and is betting the traffic comes.

  • JamesG

    Of course in both cases, the government paid for the machinery that is/was used. Rockets and road graders.

  • Tom Billings

    Well, no. The Metha/Lox type rocket engines used for New Glenn have never been flown by a government, to my knowledge, and certainly not many. Governments have had, from their goals, no requirements for cheap reusability, which is what Metha/Lox gives some pluses for. I have no problem with a member of the public, Jeff Bezos, availing himself of technology paid for by the public between 1955 and 1975, such as pintle injectors. Patents *do* expire, and should.

    As to graders, ….

    “After purchasing the company in 1928, Caterpillar went on to truly integrate the tractor and grader into one design—at the same time replacing crawler tracks with wheels to yield the first rubber-tire self-propelled grader, the Caterpillar Auto Patrol, released in 1931”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grader

    Unless you can tell us that their sales then were all to government, which you cannot from the lively private market these are sold in today, then I’d say you are wrong here, as well.

  • duheagle

    There won’t be two production lines for BE-4. Huntsville is it.

    Nor has ULA ever said the BE-4 decision was contingent on the powerpack test that blew up. It said the decision was based on testing going according to schedule. Said schedule doubtless includes some allowance for blowups.

  • JamesG

    I wish I had a dime for every time a pedant got pedantic, then I would be a billionaire overnight.

    And you whole rant actually proved my point even though you don’t apparently realize it.

  • Tom Billings

    Hmmmmm! Then, just for my poor aspie perceptions, …could you make your points a little more explicit? We dinna do well wi’ subtle social signals, you know.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Blue need a 550000+ lbf test stand for the BE-4. Think the folks at Marshall prefer Blue do their engine test elsewhere with a large staged combustion engine.

  • publiusr

    If ULA goes under–maybe Bezos gets the Decatur plant. I wanted him to work with Dynetics.

  • publiusr

    I can see SLS tooling going to New Armstrong–he may be more open to hydrogen than Musk. I want to see LH2 used more.