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Blue Origin opens Alabama rocket engine factory

Blue Origin factory opening in Alabama
Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith wields a scissors alongside other VIPs during a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the company’s rocket engine factory in Huntsville, Ala. (Blue Origin Photo)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture opened the doors of its engine factory in America’s Rocket City today, and promised that next-generation BE-4 engines would be rolling off the production line within a few months.

It was up to Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith to cut the ribbon on the company’s 350,000-square-foot, $200 million factory in Huntsville, Ala., where rocket engines for America’s space effort have been developed since the days of Wernher von Braun.

“We couldn’t be prouder to call this our home for engine production,” Smith said.

The very first BE-4 engines are being made at Blue Origin’s headquarters in Kent, Wash., however. Tooling equipment still has to be set up on the factory floor in Huntsville, and it’ll take until this summer to get the production line up to speed.

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Jeff Bezos touts full-power rocket engine test

Blue Origin engine test
Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine fires at full power during a test in Texas. (Blue Origin Photo)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is showing off a picture of his Blue Origin space venture’s BE-4 rocket engine going full blast during a hot-fire test in Texas.

“BE-4 continues to rack up time on the test stand,” Bezos said in an Instagram post accompanied by a picture of today’s full-power engine test.

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Blue Origin cleared to use historic rocket test stand

Test Stand 4670
A 1965 photo shows a Saturn V first-stage rocket engine being test-fired at Marshall Space Flight Center’s Test Stand 4670 in Alabama. Blue Origin has struck a deal with NASA to refurbish and use the facility, which has been inactive since 1998. (NASA Photo)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has signed an agreement with NASA for the use of a historic test stand at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Under the terms of a Commercial Space Launch Act agreement, Blue Origin will upgrade and refurbish Test Stand 4670 to support testing of its BE-3U and BE-4 rocket engines, NASA said today.

“This test stand once helped power NASA’s first launches to the moon, which eventually led to the emergence of an entirely new economic sector – commercial space,” NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard said in a news release. “Now, it will have a role in our ongoing commitment to facilitate growth in this sector.”

The 300-foot-tall, vertical firing test stand was built in 1965 to test rocket engines for NASA’s Saturn V rocket, and was later modified to support testing of the space shuttle external tank and main engine systems. It hasn’t been used since 1998.

NASA identified the test stand as an underused facility and posted a notice of availability in 2017 to gauge commercial interest in its use. Blue Origin responded to the notice, and a team was commissioned to explore a partnership.

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Blue Origin breaks ground on Alabama factory

Blue Origin groundbreaking
United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno and Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith are front and center for a groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of Blue Origin’s rocket engine factory in Huntsville, Ala. (City of Huntsville Photo via Twitter)

Civic leaders and space executives tossed shovels of dirt today to celebrate the groundbreaking for a $200 million rocket engine factory to be built in Alabama by Blue Origin, the space venture founded by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.

“It’s a great day here in Rocket City, and it will be that way for years to come,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith declared during the ceremony at Cummings Research Park in Huntsville, Ala.

Smith told the assembled crowd, “Blue Origin is all in on Alabama.”

The 200,000-square-foot facility is to open in March 2020 and manufacture BE-4 rocket engines for Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket as well as for United Launch Alliance’s next-generation, semi-reusable Vulcan rocket. ULA’s rocket production facility is located nearby in Decatur, Ala.

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Blue Origin’s rocket engine wins ULA’s backing

Blue Origin BE-4 engine
Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine is on display in Colorado Springs in April. (Blue Origin Photo)

After years of development and months of suspense, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has won a high-stakes race to provide United Launch Alliance with its BE-4 rocket engine.

First word of the win came unofficially in a Wall Street Journal report, and was confirmed hours later by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed joint venture. United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno confirmed that BE-4 engines would be used on the first stage of ULA’s yet-to-be-built Vulcan rocket.

“We are pleased to enter into this partnership with Blue Origin and look forward to a successful first flight of our next-generation launch vehicle,” Bruno said in a news release.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said he was “very glad” to see the BE-4 engine selected as the Vulcan rocket’s prime propulsion system.

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Blue Origin says next-gen rocket engine is on track

Blue Origin BE-4 engine
Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine is on display in Colorado Springs. (Blue Origin Photo)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — For years, there’s been a big question surrounding the next-generation BE-4 rocket engine that’s being built by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture: Will it be good enough for United Launch Alliance, a crucial prospective customer?

Now Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith says the BE-4 has passed all of the technical tests required for ULA to sign onto a production contract.

“We’ve met the technical and performance requirements that they’re looking for,” Smith told GeekWire today during a one-on-one interview at the 34th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. “And so we’re just working through how do we actually get to a production deal. We’re working through terms and conditions, termination liability, all of the things you’d want within a contractual structure.”

Smith said there’s been good interaction with ULA on the technical side of the BE-4 test-firing process. “At this point, we think it’s just, how do we get to the commercial production deal?” he said.

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SNC and Blue Origin show off space hardware

Buzz Aldrin and Mark Sirangelo
Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin and Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Mark Sirangelo get an early look at SNC’s Dream Chaser atmospheric test plane. (SNC Photo)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. —  A year after Blue Origin put its New Shepard rocket booster on public display for the first time, Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space venture has brought its BE-4 rocket engine here for one of the nation’s premier space conferences.

But this time, Colorado-based Sierra Nevada Corp. is taking up at least as much of the spotlight at the 34th Space Symposium with the prototype for its Dream Chaser mini-space shuttle.

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Jeff Bezos shares 114-second rocket engine video

Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine is an essential part of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ vision of getting millions of people living and working in space, so he’s anxious to show it works.

But not anxious enough to cut corners. The video he shared today on Twitter and Instagram shows a work in progress: a test firing of the methane-fueled BE-4 at Blue Origin’s facilities in West Texas, with the power dialed down to 65 percent of maximum and the blast limited to 114 seconds.

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Success! Blue Origin fires up BE-4 rocket engine

BE-4 engine firing
Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine blasts through its initial hot-fire test. (Blue Origin Photo)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture says it has successfully test-fired its BE-4 rocket engine, marking a key step in the development of its own New Glenn rocket as well as United Launch Alliance’s next-generation rocket.

Billions of dollars are at stake in the BE-4 project, United Launch Alliance CEO Tory Bruno told GeekWire last year.

ULA has been waiting for months to get good news about the BE-4 tests in West Texas. The company wanted to see a successful full-scale test before going ahead with plans to use the BE-4 engine on its Vulcan rocket, which is due to have its first flight in 2019.

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Blue Origin to build engines in Rocket City

Blue Origin BE-4 engines
Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engines are currently produced in Kent, Wash. (Blue Origin Photo)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ space venture, Blue Origin, plans to invest $200 million to build its BE-4 rocket engine in a new facility in Huntsville, Ala., which has been known for decades as the Rocket City.

Construction of the 200,000-square-foot facility at Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park can begin once Blue Origin wins an engine production contract from United Launch Alliance for its next-generation Vulcan rocket, the Huntsville / Madison County Chamber said today in a news release.

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