If you’re hanging out in West Texas during a pandemic, there are few fireworks shows more thrilling than a test firing of your very own rocket engine. At least that’s the way Blue Origin’s billionaire founder sees it.
“Perfect night,” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who created the Blue Origin space venture more than two decades ago, wrote in an Instagram post. “Sitting in the back of my pickup truck under the moon and stars, watching another long-duration, full-thrust hot-fire test of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine.”
The post featured a shot of Bezos and other spectators looking on at the rising rocket plume from afar, as well as a video with closer perspectives of the firing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.