SpaceTechnology

Blue Origin successfully test-fires innovative BE-4 rocket engine

Blue Origin successfully hot-fired its innovative, liquid natural gas-powered BE-4 rocket engine for the first time, the company announced on Thursday.

Blue Engine 4 is a staged-combustion rocket engine designed to develop 550,000 pounds of thrust. Developed with private funding, first flight is expected no earlier than 2019. As with other Blue Origin technology including its New Glenn large orbital rocket, the engine is designed to be reusable.

The hot-fire test – with the BE-4 engine fired at 50-percent power for three seconds – was carried out on Wednesday, Ars Technica reported.

Owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin is aiming to develop technologies to dramatically reduce the cost of reaching suborbital and orbital flight, competing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. In 2014, the company signed an agreement agreement to build the BE-4 for Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture United Launch Alliance, to replace the Russian-made RD-180 engine that ULA uses on its Vulcan launch vehicle.

The Vulcan is successor to the Atlas V vehicle that has launched US national security payloads since the early 2000s, and customers include the Department of Defense and NASA.

ULA monopolised military launches until 2016, when the U.S. Air Force awarded a GPS satellite launch contract to SpaceX.

Earlier this month, Blue Origin’s new CEO Bob Smith told the National Space Council that the company was discussing certifying New Glenn for government missions. New Glenn is designed to lift 45 metric tons into Low Earth Orbit or 13 metric tons into geostationary transfer orbit. New Glenn will use seven BE-4 engines.

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