Blue Origin has reached a major milestone in the development of their next generation BE-4 engine following a successful hot fire test. Once the launch provider competes testing and begins production, the BE-4 will become the most powerful American-made production rocket engine in decades.
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) October 19, 2017
Founded by Amazing billionaire Jeff Bezos, the innovative new aerospace company Blue Origin has spent much of this decade developing the BE-4 engine. With a potential of 550,000 lbs of thrust, the engine will become the most powerful since the Rocketdyne RS-68 developed over two decades ago. As a result, both government agencies and commercial launch providers have been keeping a keen eye on the company’s progress.
In May of this year, Blue Origins suffered a setback after an engine powerpack exploded on Blue Origin’s West Texas test. The setback left many in the industry believe that the company was just too inexperienced to pull off this mammoth task of developing the BE-4. However, Wednesday’s successful hot fire test has silenced the company’s critics. The engine’s hot fire test saw the BE-4 throttle up to 50-percent thrust for three seconds.
The BE-4 engine is Blue Origin’s fourth-generation liquid rocket engine. The engine is unique in that it uses relatively affordable liquefied natural gas as fuel as opposed to the extremely expensive kerosene used by many other rocket engines. Additionally, unlike kerosene, liquefied natural gas leaves no soot byproducts thus improving the potential for reuse. Blue Origin is also currently developing the BE-4U, a second stage variant of the BE-4.
Once in production, the BE-4 engine will power the company’s upcoming New Glenn launch vehicle. The engine may also power United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan launch vehicle. However, Blue Origins have stiff competition from rocket engine development powerhouse, Aerojet Rocketdyne, and their AR1 engine. Following the successful hot fire test on Wednesday, industry insiders believe that ULA may be leaning towards the BE-4.
Image Credit: Blue Origin