On 27 September, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced that the company has selected ‘Blue Origin’ for providing the main engine for its next-gen Vulcan vehicle. This decision was already expected since a long time.
ULA has cleared the air by saying that their Vulcan Launch Vehicle would be using a pair of Blue Origin BE-4 engines. The engine uses liquid oxygen (LOX) as well as liquefied natural gas (LNG) during the first stage of its flight. The vehicle is expected to make its first launch around mid-2020s. Till now, ULA has not disclosed its terms of agreement with Blue Origin. However, Tory Bruno, the president and chief executive of ULA, has declared that they are pleased to work in partnership with Blue Origin. They seem to look forward to the success of the launch of its next generation launch vehicle’s first flight.
Bob Smith, the chief executive officer of Blue Origin has mentioned that it has been one of the greatest days in history of the Blue Origin team. The team is extremely honored that the Blue Origin’s LOX/LNG BE-4 engine is selected by the United Launch Alliance to power the first stage of the Vulcan rocket.
The partnership took four years to realize since both the companies first announced their collaboration for developing the BE-4 engine. In the meantime, ULA also took the AR1 engine into consideration, originally developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne. However, after a brief period Bruno made it clear that BE-4 is their first choice for powering their Vulcan rocket.
So what took so long for ULA to decide which engine to use? In an interview in April 2017, Bruno had mentioned that his team had been waiting for results of some tests of the BE-4 conducted by Blue Origin. This might have delayed the decision. He also said in the same interview that there are some economic factors that needs to be considered and technical risk is always something to stay alert about. So they thought waiting for the test results would be their best option.
Blue Origin first tested the BE-4 in October 2017. Since then the company has gradually accelerated their test campaign.
At the World Satellite Business Week in Paris on September 11, Smith had claimed that the engine has been performing great. Smith said of BE-4 on a Sept. 11 panel at the World Satellite Business Week in Paris. He revealed that his team had put the engine into hundreds of seconds of firing, which includes a 200-second long firing session. The results have been extremely good and the company is happy about the engine’s progress.