Blue Origin completes supply of BE-4 rocket engines for first ULA Vulcan launch

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Blue Origin’s BE-4 engines are being placed onto United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket booster. (ULA Photo)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture says it has completed delivery of the two BE-4 rocket engines that will be used next year for the first launch of United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket.

The delivery to ULA’s factory in Alabama comes two years later than the schedule called for when ULA chose Blue Origin as the engine supplier for the Vulcan first-stage booster in 2018.

In a tweet, United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno said one of the engines has already been placed on the booster, and the other one “will join it momentarily.”

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said he’ll be “excited to see ULA’s Vulcan fly.”

“The BE-4 is a great engine, and we’re proud of Team Blue for achieving this milestone as part of ULA’s team,” Smith said in a news release. “It’s been a wonderful partnership, and this shipset is the first of many more to come.”

Bruno and Bezos have been working together on the BE-4 engine development project since 2014, but delays in development and testing led critics to taunt Blue Origin by asking “Where are Tory’s engines, Jeff?” The next question is likely to be, “When will Tory’s rocket launch?”

Vulcan’s first liftoff from Florida is currently set for the first quarter of 2023. It main objective is to send Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander on the first leg of its journey to the surface of the moon for a NASA-funded mission, in preparation for the Artemis program’s crewed lunar landings.

Along the way, the launch vehicle will deploy two prototype satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper broadband internet constellation into low Earth orbit.

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The BE-4 engine is destined for use not only on the first-stage booster of ULA’s semi-reusable Vulcan Centaur rocket, but also on Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket, which is currently due to make its debut in 2023.

Each BE-4 engine provides 550,000 pounds of thrust, with liquefied natural gas serving as the fuel. The engines are manufactured at Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Wash., and at a production facility in Huntsville, Ala. Testing has been conducted at Blue Origin’s West Texas facility and at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

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