In a recent report, the GAO — Government Accountability Office — had reported technical issues with the Blue Origin produced BE-4 engine that will power United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket.
Vulcan Centaur’s first flight will launch Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine on a mission to land on the moon. That flight was scheduled for the end of 2021, but it has slipped into next year due to COVID-19 pandemic related delays with Peregrine.
Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin released a fact sheet about its programs when it opened its new Huntsville manufacturing facility on Monday. Below is an excerpt on the company’s New Glenn rocket and its BE-3, BE-4 and BE-7 engine development program.
BLUE ORIGIN FACT SHEET
Named after John Glenn, the first American astronaut to orbit Earth, New Glenn is a single configuration, heavy-lift orbital launch vehicle capable of carrying people and payloads routinely to low Earth orbit, geostationary transfer orbit, cislunar and beyond. Its first stage is fully reusable and built for 25 missions initially.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala., February 17, 2020 (Blue Origin PR) —Today, Blue Origin opened its rocket engine production facility in Huntsville, AL. The world-class engine manufacturing facility in The Rocket City will conduct high rate production of the BE-4 and BE-3U engines. These engines will undergo testing at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center on the historic Test Stand 4670. BE-7, our lunar landing engine, is also currently in test at NASA Marshall.
“At the core of every successful launch vehicle program are the engines that power those vehicles to space. Early on in Blue Origin’s history, we made a crucial decision to invest in developing the next generation of reusable rocket engines. And now, it’s an exciting time for Blue, our partners and this country –we are on the path to deliver on our promise to end the reliance on Russian made engines – and it’s all happening right here, right now, in the great state of Alabama. We couldn’t be prouder to call this our home for engine production,” said Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin.
Blue will add more than 300 jobs to the local economy with an investment of over $200 million in the facility.
HUNTSVILLE, Ala., January 25, 2019 (Blue Origin PR) — Today we broke ground on the construction of a world-class rocket engine production facility in Huntsville, Alabama, extending the city’s rich legacy in liquid rocket engines.
Here are excerpts from today’s groundbreaking ceremony given by Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith:
It’s a great day here in Rocket City. Thanks to the votes of confidence from United Launch Alliance, from the Air Force for national security missions, and from Huntsville and the state of Alabama, we are breaking ground on a facility to produce our world-class engines and power the next generation of spaceflight.
Centennial, Colo., Sept. 27, 2018 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) next-generation rocket – the Vulcan Centaur – is making strong progress in development and is on track for its initial flight in mid-2020. The Vulcan Centaur rocket design leverages the proven success of the Delta IV and Atlas V launch vehicles while introducing advanced technologies and innovative features.
The Wall Street Journalreports that Blue Origin has won a contract from United Launch Alliance to supply BE-4 engines for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle. An announcement is expected today.
The decision would be a defeat for Aerojet Rocketdyne, which has been developing the AR1 engine.
The long-term, potentially multibillion-dollar agreement could provide a boost to Blue Origin’s eventual goal of becoming a major military launch provider itself. The company plans to use the same engines to power its own heavy-lift launcher, called New Glenn, which is currently under development.
Competition in the satellite-launch business is heating up. The Air Force is considering how to divvy up hundreds of millions of federal dollars to develop a fleet of lower-cost, more versatile rockets. Blue Origin, United Launch, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Innovation Systems unit, formerly known as Orbital ATK, are all in the running. The Air Force is preparing to shortly announce the first-stage winners….
Negotiations between United Launch and Blue Origin dragged on for months, with both sides bargaining hard over price, delivery schedules and production reliability. Other hurdles, according to two people familiar with the details, included United Launch’s concerns about relying on a prospective rival for its most important engine supply. It couldn’t be learned what provisions were hammered out.
Blue Origin beat out Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc., which had sought to sell its AR1 engine as the primary propulsion system for the Vulcan. A spokesman for Aerojet, which previously was picked to provide smaller, upper-stage engines for the ULA rocket, said “we are committed” to the AR1 engine and “will have a test-ready engine in 2019.” The spokesman also said that regardless of the decision, Aerojet’s “liquid engine business is thriving,” and the AR1 remains an option for possible smaller launch vehicles on the drawing board.
Space News has an update on Blue Origin’s development of its BE-4 engine.
The chief executive of Blue Origin says he expects the company’s BE-4 engine to complete qualification testing by the end of the year as the company ramps up work on its New Glenn orbital rocket.
In an April 19 interview during the 34th Space Symposium here, Bob Smith said testing of the BE-4 engine, which uses methane and liquid oxygen propellants, was going well as the company stepped through a methodical process of increased durations and thrust levels.
“We continue to progress along the lines of changing the power levels and going from various throttle settings,” he said. That includes, he said, a test the company announced in March when the engine fired for 114 seconds at 65 percent of rated power. That duration is about half a typical mission duty cycle for the engine.
“We continue to roll through our test program and hope to qualify that engine by the end of the year,” he said. “We’re walking our way through that just to make sure we understand and characterize the engine fully.”
New test video of Blue’s 550K lbf thrust, ox-rich staged combustion, LNG-fueled BE-4 engine. The test is a mixture ratio sweep at 65% power level and 114 seconds in duration. Methane (or LNG) has proved to be an outstanding fuel choice. @BlueOrigin#GradatimFerociterpic.twitter.com/zWV0jWXIvx
I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.
I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….
So, have at it! Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!
Latest BE-4 engine test footage where we exceeded our Isp targets. We continue to exercise the deep throttling of our full scale 550,000 lbf BE-4, the reusability of our hydrostatic pump bearings and our stable start/stop cycles. More to follow from ongoing tests. #BE4#NewGlennpic.twitter.com/fw5zvtwpJ6