Spaceflight Insider

ULA selects Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for Vulcan rocket

United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket image credit ULA posted on SpaceFlight Insider

The Vulcan rocket. Image Credit: ULA

Drawing to a close the competition between aerospace veteran Aerojet Rocketdyne and NewSpace’s Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance (ULA) today selected Blue’s BE-4 engine to power the new Vulcan Centaur rocket.

“We are pleased to enter into this partnership with Blue Origin and look forward to a successful first flight of our next-generation launch vehicle,” stated Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO, in a release issued by the company.

The matchup between the two companies had seemingly been Blue’s to lose, with today’s announcement appearing to be more a confirmation than a surprise. Nevertheless, Blue Origin was understandably pleased to have their methalox-powered — meaning that it burns a mixture of liquid methane (LNG) and liquid oxygen (LOX) — BE-4 engine selected to provide Vulcan’s first stage propulsion.

“Today is a great day for the Blue Origin team. We are very honored that United Launch Alliance has selected Blue Origin’s LOX/LNG BE-4 as the engine that will power the first stage of their Vulcan rocket,” noted Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith in a statement released by Blue Origin.

“We can’t thank Tory Bruno and the entire United Launch Alliance team enough for entrusting our engine to power Vulcan. The Blue team is looking forward to developing our production facility for our BE-4 engine in Huntsville over the next year,” concluded Smith.

Test firing of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine. ULA selected the BE-4 to power the fist stage of the company’s Vulcan Centaur rocket. Photo credit: Blue Origin

Powering Vulcan’s first stage will be two BE-4 engines, each providing 550,000 pounds-force (2,446.5 kilonewtons) of sea-level thrust. When augmented with up to six GEM 63XL solid rocket boosters (SRBs), Vulcan will be able to deliver 56,000 pounds (25,401 kilograms) to low-Earth orbit (LEO), 33,000 pounds (14,969 kilograms) to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), or 16,000 pounds (7,257 kilograms) directly to geostationary orbit.

“Our new rocket will be superior in reliability, cost and capability – one system for all missions,” stated Bruno.

Also cheering the selection of the BE-4, and further cementing its nickname as “The Rocket City,” was the city of Huntsville. The northern Alabama city, and its surrounding metro area, is host not only to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), but also United Launch Alliance, Aerojet Rocketdyne, RUAG Space, The U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Space Camp, Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation, along with dozens of others.

“This will add to our portfolio and truly make us the center of rocket propulsion for the world. There will be a lot of Huntsville in that rocket,” stated Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, in an article on

While Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-1 engine wasn’t selected by ULA, the company still plays a vital role in the propulsion element of the new rocket. Indeed, Aerojet’s RL10 has been a mainstay of ULA’s Atlas and Delta vehicles for years, a trend that will continue with the RL10 having already been selected to power the Centaur, or upper, stage of Vulcan.

“Strong partners are critical to the cutting-edge innovation that is leading us into the next generation in space and ensuring mission success,” concluded Bruno. “Partnerships with Blue Origin, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Northrop Grumman, L-3 Avionics Systems and RUAG will allow the Vulcan Centaur to transform the future of space launch for the government and commercial markets, making launch more affordable, accessible and commercially available.”

ULA is targeting 2020 for the inaugural launch of Vulcan Centaur.

Courtesy of Blue Origin





Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.

Reader Comments

Without nearly full reusability of the main stage , this new bird is just a giant Dodo.

There really was no choice. As reported widely, Aerojet/Rocketdyne had no hardware developed.

I totally understand why SEC went after Musk about Tesla. But why isn’t anyone investigating Aerojet for their theft of US Govt. funds for AR1?

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