Centennial, Colo., Sept. 27, 2018 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) next-generation rocket – the Vulcan Centaur – is making strong progress in development and is on track for its initial flight in mid-2020. The Vulcan Centaur rocket design leverages the proven success of the Delta IV and Atlas V launch vehicles while introducing advanced technologies and innovative features.
The Wall Street Journalreports that Blue Origin has won a contract from United Launch Alliance to supply BE-4 engines for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle. An announcement is expected today.
The decision would be a defeat for Aerojet Rocketdyne, which has been developing the AR1 engine.
The long-term, potentially multibillion-dollar agreement could provide a boost to Blue Origin’s eventual goal of becoming a major military launch provider itself. The company plans to use the same engines to power its own heavy-lift launcher, called New Glenn, which is currently under development.
Competition in the satellite-launch business is heating up. The Air Force is considering how to divvy up hundreds of millions of federal dollars to develop a fleet of lower-cost, more versatile rockets. Blue Origin, United Launch, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Innovation Systems unit, formerly known as Orbital ATK, are all in the running. The Air Force is preparing to shortly announce the first-stage winners….
Negotiations between United Launch and Blue Origin dragged on for months, with both sides bargaining hard over price, delivery schedules and production reliability. Other hurdles, according to two people familiar with the details, included United Launch’s concerns about relying on a prospective rival for its most important engine supply. It couldn’t be learned what provisions were hammered out.
Blue Origin beat out Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc., which had sought to sell its AR1 engine as the primary propulsion system for the Vulcan. A spokesman for Aerojet, which previously was picked to provide smaller, upper-stage engines for the ULA rocket, said “we are committed” to the AR1 engine and “will have a test-ready engine in 2019.” The spokesman also said that regardless of the decision, Aerojet’s “liquid engine business is thriving,” and the AR1 remains an option for possible smaller launch vehicles on the drawing board.
Space News has an update on Blue Origin’s development of its BE-4 engine.
The chief executive of Blue Origin says he expects the company’s BE-4 engine to complete qualification testing by the end of the year as the company ramps up work on its New Glenn orbital rocket.
In an April 19 interview during the 34th Space Symposium here, Bob Smith said testing of the BE-4 engine, which uses methane and liquid oxygen propellants, was going well as the company stepped through a methodical process of increased durations and thrust levels.
“We continue to progress along the lines of changing the power levels and going from various throttle settings,” he said. That includes, he said, a test the company announced in March when the engine fired for 114 seconds at 65 percent of rated power. That duration is about half a typical mission duty cycle for the engine.
“We continue to roll through our test program and hope to qualify that engine by the end of the year,” he said. “We’re walking our way through that just to make sure we understand and characterize the engine fully.”
New test video of Blue’s 550K lbf thrust, ox-rich staged combustion, LNG-fueled BE-4 engine. The test is a mixture ratio sweep at 65% power level and 114 seconds in duration. Methane (or LNG) has proved to be an outstanding fuel choice. @BlueOrigin#GradatimFerociterpic.twitter.com/zWV0jWXIvx
I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.
I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….
So, have at it! Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!
Latest BE-4 engine test footage where we exceeded our Isp targets. We continue to exercise the deep throttling of our full scale 550,000 lbf BE-4, the reusability of our hydrostatic pump bearings and our stable start/stop cycles. More to follow from ongoing tests. #BE4#NewGlennpic.twitter.com/fw5zvtwpJ6
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (Huntsville Madison County Chamber of Commerce PR) — Blue Origin announced plans to manufacture its BE-4 engine in a state-of-the art production facility to be built in Huntsville, Alabama — the Rocket City.The new facility will be in Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second-largest research park, and construction can begin once an engine production contract with United Launch Alliance is awarded. The BE-4 is America’s next rocket engine and will power United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, once down-selected. The production of this engine would end the nation’s dependence on Russia for access to space for critical national security space systems.
In what is likely a surprise to no one, United Launch Alliance’s CEO said this week the company is leaning toward selecting Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine in the first stage of its new Vulcan rocket — providing upcoming engine tests go well.
That would leave rival Aerojet Rocketdyne and its AR1 engine without a booster to fly on.
In an interview during the 33rd Space Symposium here, Tory Bruno said that tests of the BE-4 engine, scheduled to begin “very soon” at Blue Origin’s test site in West Texas, are the last major hurdle the engine must clear before ULA decides to use it on Vulcan. (more…)
Although the BE-4 turbopump is smaller than your refrigerator, it generates 70,000 horsepower from a turbine running at nearly 19,000 revolutions per minute that pumps cryogenic propellants to pressures just under 5,000 pounds per square inch. To react the forces generated by the rotating turbine and impellers inside the pump, production rocket turbopumps to date have used traditional ball and roller bearings. For BE-4, we’re doing something different – we’re using hydrostatic bearings. (more…)
Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos is expected to announce something on Tuesday in a speech at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington, DC.
I’m guessing it will be an elaboration on the company’s plansfor establishing a base at the south pole of the moon. He also will likely provide updates on the testing schedule for the BE-4 engines (pictured above), development of the New Glenn booster, and construction of the company’s manufacturing facility in Florida.
Robert Goddard’s first rockets used compressed gas to force the liquid propellants into the engine thrust chambers. While simple in design and a logical starting point, he quickly realized the limitations with this approach: it requires thick-walled heavy propellant tanks and limits the engine’s chamber pressure and performance, both of which limit payload capacity. The answer was turbopumps. Store the propellants in low-pressure light tanks, and then pump the propellants up to high pressure just ahead of injection into the main chamber.
For even more performance, you can add one or more boost pumps ahead of the main pumps. We’ve done that on the oxidizer side of our BE-4 engine. Our Ox Boost Pump (OBP) design leverages 3-D additive manufacturing to make many of the key components. The housing is a single printed aluminum part and all of the stages of the hydraulic turbine are printed from Monel, a nickel alloy. This manufacturing approach allows the integration of complex internal flow passages in the housing that would be much more difficult to make using conventional methods. The turbine nozzles and rotors are also 3-D printed and require minimum machining to achieve the required fits.
The OBP was first demonstrated last year in testing, where we validated its interaction with a main pump. The second iteration of the OBP for BE-4 is now in test. We’ve also just finished assembly of the unit that we’ll install for the first all-up BE-4 engine test.
We’ll keep you posted on how our BE-4 powerpack and engine testing progresses.
For BE-4, not only do we have to design the engine itself, we also have to develop custom tools to make it. One of these tools is an automated electrical discharge machining (EDM) drilling machine. The EDM precisely locates and burns more than 4,000 tightly dimensioned holes into the nozzle and main combustion chamber, providing entry to the regenerative cooling channels.
As far as we know, this particular EDM machine is the only one of its kind in the world. It has 11 axes of motion allowing for precise hole location and accuracy within a few thousands of an inch. Its dual-head design results in reduced cycle time for the drilled holes. Brass multichannel electrodes are used to drill the holes. Water can be pumped through the electrode in order to speed up the drilling cycle. The use of water also helps flush the hole and remove the powder-like foreign object debris generated by the process. This eliminates the concern for plugging cooling channels, which can easily occur with conventional drilling methods. A pair of automated electrode-changing stations allows the EDM to continuously operate for long cycle times at an average rate of one hole every 90 seconds.
Building and operating custom tools of this magnitude is a big investment, but it’s critical for developing an engine that will power America’s access to space in the future.
A pretty wise investment, if you ask me.
PS: Blue Origin is hiring. Check out our Careers page and apply.
We’re making multiple copies of the BE-4 to take us through our development campaign, along with a healthy amount of hardware spares to mitigate schedule and technical risks encountered along the way – – a “hardware rich” approach to development. To maintain a fast pace, we’ve elected over the past years to invest heavily in key machines, tooling and people for the production of BE-4 so we can control critical processes in-house.
We’ve also started testing the BE-4 preburner in our recently commissioned pressure-fed test cell. We’re developing the transient start sequence for the preburner, and we’re making good progress.
We’ll continue to keep you posted on our progress as this engine comes together.