United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin LLC, a privately-funded aerospace company owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, entered into a public-private partnership with the U.S. Air Force to develop a new rocket propulsion system to power Vulcan — ULA’s next-generation launch system.
“While the RD-180 engine has been a remarkable success with more than 60 successful launches, we believe now is the right time for American investment in a domestic engine,” said Tory Bruno, president and chief executive officer. “As America’s ride to space, we continue to meet our goal of delivering the most reliable launch systems at the most affordable cost, while developing a new rocket which enables brand new opportunities for the nation’s use of space.”
ULA has been investing in the development of the Vulcan rocket for more than a year. This agreement will enhance the company’s progress integrating the BE-4 engine with the Vulcan launch vehicle.
Development of the BE-4 engine is fully funded by Blue Origin, with investment by ULA, and offers the fastest path to a domestic alternative to the RD-180. Development is on schedule to achieve qualification for flight in 2017 to support the first Vulcan flight in 2019.
The BE-4 is a liquid oxygen, liquefied natural gas rocket engine that delivers 550,000-lbf of thrust at sea level. Two BE-4s would power each ULA Vulcan booster, providing 1,100,000-lbf thrust at liftoff. Vulcan will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Space Launch Complex 3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. ULA is teaming in the development of the BE-4 to enable availability for national security, civil, human and commercial missions. Development of the BE-4 engine has been underway for more than four years and testing of the BE-4 components is ongoing at Blue Origin’s test facilities in West Texas.
The Air Force also awarded a separate development contract to an Aerojet Rocketdyne-ULA team for the AR1 engine.
“ULA continues to work with both Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne to pursue two options for a next-generation American engine and that is why we’re teaming with two of the world’s leading propulsion companies,” said Bruno.
With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 100 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.