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Old 09-27-2018, 08:11 AM
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Arrow Military’s primary launch provider poised to pick Blue Origin’s new engine for future

Military’s primary launch provider poised to pick Blue Origin’s new engine for future rocket
The competition may finally be over
By: Loren Grush@lorengrush Sep 27, 2018, 9:50am EDT

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The Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine

The military’s primary launch provider, the United Launch Alliance, is poised to announce that it has selected the main engine for its next-generation rocket, a vehicle called the Vulcan. The company — a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin — will reportedly use an engine manufactured by Blue Origin, an aerospace company helmed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Known as the BE-4, the rocket engine has been under development since 2011. It runs on liquid oxygen and liquid methane, making it the first engine to use such propellants. And when complete, each engine will supposedly generate 550,000 pounds of thrust at liftoff. Blue Origin plans to use the BE-4 to power its future orbital rocket, the New Glenn. However, the company has also been jockeying for the last four years to get a contract with ULA in order to use the engine in the Vulcan.

A representative for ULA declined to comment and did not say whether an announcement would be made today. “Due to this being a competitive procurement, we can’t comment at this time,” Jessica Rye, a spokesperson for ULA, said in a statement to The Verge. Blue Origin did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication. However, a person familiar with the matter confirmed to The Verge that an announcement would happen this afternoon.

Such a selection would come at no surprise. ULA announced in 2014 that it was partnering with Blue Origin to partially fund development of the BE-4. Since then, ULA CEO Tory Bruno has maintained that the company was the frontrunner for the gig. But while Blue Origin has been working on the BE-4, another engine manufacturer, Aerojet Rocketdyne, has also been vying to use its hardware on Vulcan. That company has been developing its own engine, AR-1, specifically for the Vulcan and ULA has waited to officially pick which company it would partner with.

The writing has been on the wall that Aerojet would lose the bid, though. Blue Origin has been further along in the development process, despite a mishap last year that led to the loss of hardware during testing. And recent financial documents filed by Aerojet Rocketdyne showed that the company may stop funding development of the engine with its own money soon and that it wouldn’t have flight-ready hardware by the end of 2019, Ars Technica reported.

Cutaway view link:
An artistic rendering of the Vulcan Image: By United Launch Alliance

Moving to the BE-4 is big news for ULA, as the company attempts to transition from its reliance on the RD-180 — a Russian-manufactured engine used to power ULA’s primary rocket, the Atlas V. After Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, tensions heightened and Congress decided to ban the use of Russian-made engines to launch national security satellites. Since ULA has almost monopolized launching national security payloads for the last decade, the ban had big implications for the company and it started looking for possible replacements for the engine. Ultimately, ULA decided to create an entirely new rocket that would build on the capabilities of its two primary vehicles, the Atlas V and the Delta IV. The ban was modified in 2016, with Congress allowing ULA to purchase up to 18 RD-180s to be used through 2022.

ULA plans to fly the Vulcan for the first time by 2020, while Blue Origin also plans to launch its new vehicle, the New Glenn, before the end of the decade. Those timelines may shift significantly, though. The fact that the two companies are developing similar rockets was a point of concern for ULA, according to the WSJ, since they could potentially compete. That reportedly led to months of negotiations.

Meanwhile, if Aerojet Rocketdyne has lost the bid for its AR1, that leaves the engine manufacturer in a tough spot. ULA’s Vulcan may soon become the company’s primary rocket, and supplying the main engines on the vehicle could be a lucrative deal worth hundreds of millions, if not billions. Aerojet Rocketdyne still has deals to make the main engines for NASA’s next big rocket, the Space Launch System, and the company currently supplies ULA with the main engines for its Delta IV rocket, as well as the upper stage engines for its other vehicles. It will also supply the engines for the upper stage of the Vulcan. Aerojet Rocketdyne was not immediately available for comment before publication.

An update on this story if we receive more information.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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