WASHINGTON – As Blue Origin breaks the ground at a new rocket engine manufacturing plant, the company says the development of its BE-4 engine will be completed later this year.
Blue Origin held a groundbreaking ceremony in Huntsville, Alabama, January 25, to formally mark the start of the construction of a plant that will be used for the construction of BE-4 engines. The company announced plans to build the factory there in June 2017, depending on the choice of engine of the United Launch Alliance for its Vulcan rocket. ULA picked BE-4 in September 2018.
The factory, expected to be completed in March 2020, will build dozens of BE-4 engines annually for both Vulcan and Blue Origins own New Glenn vehicle. Both rockets are scheduled to make first launches in 2021
"This motor production facility demonstrates commitment in the state of Alabama," said Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin, in remarks on the groundbreaking webcast event of a local television station. He and others said that discussions on finding the Huntsville factory took place for several years before the company made its choice in 2017. "It also shows our confidence that the highly educated workforce and business environment in Huntsville will play a crucial role in Progress our vision of millions of people living and working in space. "
The facility will create more than 300 jobs, Smith says, with a total business investment of more than $ 200 million. The figures are similar to those offered by Blue Origin when it made the selection of Huntsville in 2017.
While Blue Origin is building the plant, it continues to test the BE-4 engine using liquid oxygen and liquid natural gas propellants and can produce up to 550,000 pounds of power. The company builds original versions of the engine at the Kent, Washington headquarters, and tests them in West Texas, where it also performs test flights of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle.
"It will be a real wonder of engineering when we complete this year's development," Smith said of the engine. "We are currently rocking our test stand out in West Texas."
He did not provide further information on the status of BE-4 development and testing, but during a webcast of the latest New Shepard test aircraft on January 23, Ariane Cornell, head of astronaut strategy and sales at Blue Origin, said the engine has become tested to 70 percent of its nominal power and in durations of more than 200 seconds. A new version of the engine will soon be installed at the test site, she said, "and we have to go up to 100 percent power."
Blue Origin plans to use the Huntsville factory to also produce BE-3U engine, a version of the BE-3 liquid hydrogen / liquid oxygen engine used on New Shepard modified for use on the New Glenn second phase . Two BE-3U motors will drive the second phase.
By the groundbreaking, Smith announced that Blue Origin is working in agreement with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center to take over building 4670 at its center. The site, a test stand previously used to test engines for Saturn 5 and shuttle, will be used for both BE-3U and BE-4 engine approval.
"Through this deal, we will make renovation, restoration and modernization of this piece of American history," Smith said. Blue Origin and NASA Marshall signed a Space Act agreement in July 2018 to cover "fitness analysis and initial facility preparations" for potential use of the test stand for engine testing by the company.
Participant in the groundbreaking event with Smith was members of Congress as well as state and local officials who all praised Blue Origin for deciding to locate his factory in Huntsville, known as "Rocket City" in view of the long history of rocket development. at Marshall and Redstone Arsenal. "Blue Origin and the United Launch Alliance represent what we are all about in Alabama," said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey.
Also Tory Bruno, President and CEO of ULA, who builds his rockets, including the future Vulcan vehicle in nearby Decatur, Alabama. "The Alabama people have given us wonderful leadership in this state, which is so passionate about rockets as we are," he said. "I wouldn't do this elsewhere."