Blue Origin conducts first hotfire test of BE-4 rocket engine

21 October 2017

Blue Origin has conducted the first hotfire test of its BE-4 rocket engine in West Texas, a powerplant fired by liquified natural gas and liquid oxygen that will power the company's heavy-lift New Glenn rocket and possibly United Launch Alliance's next-generation Vulcan launcher, officials announced Thursday.

The company released a six-second video of the test-firing, in which the engine was seen from four angles.

With support from founder Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin has developed the BE-4 engine, which has been largely privately-funded for multiple uses.

Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket, which will launch around 2020, will be powered by seven BE-4 engines on its first stage, and a single BE-4 engine on its second stage. United Launch Alliance (ULA) has tapped the BE-4 as the primary engine option for the Vulcan rocket, a replacement for the company's Atlas 5 rocket set to debut by the end of 2019.

The reusable BE-4 which can deliver 550,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, makes it the highest-power methane-fueled rocket engine ever built. Meanwhile, SpaceX is developing its own high-performance methane-burning engine, called the Raptor, which, according to company chief Elon Musk will generate around 380,000 pounds of sea level thrust.

The BE-4 hotfire test is seen as an important milestone in the engine's development after Blue Origin took up development of the powerplant in 2011.

The BE-4 aims "to end American dependence on the Russian-made RD-180 engine." Also by using the engine in its own rockets, Blue Origin hopes to sell the BE- 4 to United Launch Alliance -- a joint venture between Boeing (BA) and Lockheed Martin (LMT) -- for use on its new rocket series, called Vulcan.

According to commentators, Vulcan comes as the answer to an ongoing problem for ULA given that its Atlas V rocket relies on the Russian RD-180 engine, which makes the government wary of using the rocket for sensitive national security payloads.

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