Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine passes staged-combustion tests
Blue Origin, the secretive rocket company based in Kent, WA, announced that they have completed more than 100 staged-combustion tests in the development of their new BE-4 engine. The series of tests combined to achieve a crucial milestone in the engine’s development. These tests provided measurable performance data in advance of the forthcoming Critical Design Review (CDR).
According to a release issued by the company, the staged-combustion testing configuration included a representative BE-4 preburner and regeneratively cooled thrust chamber using multiple full-scale injector elements.
“We tested a number of injector element designs and chamber lengths at a variety of operational conditions,” said Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin. “Rigorous component testing ahead of full-engine testing significantly increases confidence in the development schedule and projected performance.”
The tests were performed and then compared to the company’s pre-test predictions for the engine. Among the tests were checks for injector performance, heat transfer, and combustion stability. Data gathered during testing was used to refine the design of the preburner and main combustion chamber injector elements, preburner and main combustion chamber sizing, and the regenerative cooling configuration.
The construction and operation of the test components also demonstrated the critical manufacturing processes for the thrust chamber and nozzle, including the use of additive manufacturing (3-D printing).
The BE-4 uses liquid oxygen (LOX) for the oxidizer and liquefied natural gas (LNG) as the primary propellant. This combination produces a rocket engine that delivers 550,000-lbf (2.45 MN) of thrust at sea level.
Jeff Bezos, who is known for creating online retail giant Amazon.com, recently unveiled a new Blue Origin rocket that will use the BE-4 as its principle propulsion. At a press conference held at the Cape, Blue Origin announced plans to build and launch this new orbital vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Additionally, the BE-4 will be used on United Launch Alliance’s next generation Vulcan launch system. That rocket system is designed to serve national security, civil, human, and commercial missions. Vulcan will use two of the BE-4 engines for each first stage.
In late 2014, Blue Origin signed an agreement with United Launch Alliance to co-develop the BE-4 rocket engine. The Vulcan Next Generation Launch System is planned to succeed the Atlas V and Delta IV boosters. Currently, the Atlas V relies on Russian-made RD-180 engines. The need for a new engine arose with the geopolitical uncertainty in acquiring more RD-180s after Russia’s military actions in Ukraine in 2014.
Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.