Blue Origin wins ULA engine contract, will build facility in Huntsville

The BE-4 engine will be manufactured in the Rocket City
(Source: Blue Origin)
Updated: Sep. 27, 2018 at 6:53 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Blue Origin has announced plans to build a rocket engine plant in Huntsville after landing a contract with the United Launch Alliance.

Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle released the following statement Thursday afternoon:

“Congratulations to United Launch Alliance and to Blue Origin! After a lengthy due diligence period by ULA, today’s announcement marks the beginning of U.S. independence for a variety space travel missions to include future deep space voyages. Huntsville is proud that both Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne will play a major role in ULA’s production of the Vulcan Centaur rocket. Huntsville led the U.S. propulsion revolution in the 60s, and we continue to do so with a thriving industry of rocket scientists and rocket producers. This is what we do better than anyone else in the world."

The Blue Origin BE-4 engine will be used to power the new Vulcan rocket.

“I am pleased to learn that ULA has selected Blue Origin and new investments will be made in Alabama to expand our growing aerospace industry,” Gov. Kay Ivey said in a news release. “Alabama has a rich history in aerospace and titans of innovation continue to choose Alabama as the place to develop new technology and develop 21st century engines for future space utilization. I am excited about our new partnership with Blue Origin and their commitment to our state.”

A source knowledgeable and close to the negotiations tells WAFF’s Liz Hurley that the aerospace giant, owned and funded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, won the United Launch Alliance engine contract for the powerful first stage. Blue Origin announced in June 26th, 2017, that the company would build the BE-4 engine in Huntsville, only if it won the contract over Aerojet-Rocketdyne’s AR-1 engine.

The BE-4 will power the first stage of ULA’s new massive next-generation rocket that will replace the Atlas V.

The engine will also replace the Russian workhorse – the reliable, but controversial Russian-made RD-180.

Congress, under the Obama Administration, mandated that American-made rockets needed to be powered by American-made engines.

ULA has delivered more than 125 satellites into orbit that provide critical location, navigation and communication capability for troops in the field.

WAFF’s Liz Hurley asked ULA’s CEO, Tory Bruno why its taken so long to announce the engine selection for the new Vulcan. The announcement was scheduled for last year. He told her it was not schedule based, but instead, test based.

Clearly, time and maturity played a major role. BE-4 is further along in testing. This spring, Blue Origin was testing at a full-scale level. Aerojet Rocketdyne was testing at a component full scale level.

Aerojet Rockeydyne is still a winner with Vulcan.

The company won the engine contract for Vulcan’s Upper Stage. That engine though, is the RL10.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s presence in the Rocket City is growing.

The company moved its east and west coast operations to Huntsville and is building a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in the North Huntsville Industrial Park off Pulaski Pike, near Toyota. The company says it plans to hire 800 new employees.

Meanwhile, Blue Origin’s massive rocket engine plant will take some time to construct and eventually employ some 400 people with an average salary of $75,000 per year. Blue Origin’s factory in Huntsville represents a $200 million capital investment.

The BE-4 uses a combination of liquid oxygen and liquid methane (or natural gas) for fuel and it will be used not only by ULA for its Vulcan Rocket, but for Blue Origin’s own New Glenn launch vehicle.

No construction date has been announced for the planned facility, but presumably dirt will turn soon on a new 400,000 square foot facility at Cummings Research Park.

That engine plant will be erected to the west of HudsonAlpha near Explorer and Farrow Roads. That's just east of the Indian Creek Greenway.

Blue Origin is headquartered in Kent, Washington, has a suborbital launch and engine test site in West Texas. It has a massive and ever-growing footprint at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with a new rocket factory and in the not-too-distant future, an rocket engine plant in the Rocket City, building on the moniker as the propulsion capital of the world.

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