Blue Origin has delivered the first BE-4 rocket engine to United Launch Alliance (ULA). The industry stalwart selected the engine to power its next-generation Vulcan rocket in 2018.
The announcement that ULA had received its first Blue Origin BE-4 engine was made on the company’s official Twitter account with the hashtag #CountdowntoVulcan. In the comments of the announcement, ULA CEO Tory Bruno answered a question describing the engine as a “development pathfinder.”
According to a SpaceNews report, the next BE-4 engine will be delivered to ULA this month. It is currently unclear if this will be the first production unit. As the Vulcan first stage utilises two BE-4 rocket engines, it may be a second development pathfinder for fitment and testing.
ULA announced it had selected the BE-4 engine for its next-generation Vulcan engine on September 27, 2018. However, the launch provider’s involvement with the engine dates back to four years earlier.
In 2014, ULA signed an agreement with Blue Origin to co-develop the BE-4 engine to ensure its launch vehicles were no longer dependent on the RD-180. The Russian-made engine powers the ULA Atlas V rocket and with recent geopolitical issues between the US and Russia, the future availability of the engine was brought into question.
Despite being a part of the development process, by 2015 ULA was not only considering the Blue Origin BE-4 for its Vulcan rocket but also the Aerojet Rocketdyne AR1. However after the Air Force drastically reduced funding that had been previously promised to the AR1 project, the engine’s future appeared uncertain.
With the AR1 engine underfunded and likely several years behind the BE-4 in its development, by 2018 the choice had all be made for ULA.