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Blue Origin's BE-3 rocket engine, a predecessor to the engine to be developed by the company for U.S. spaceflight.
Blue Origin’s BE-3 rocket engine, a predecessor to the engine to be developed by the company for ULA.

Boeing and SpaceX were the big winners of the nearly $7 billion NASA contract to take U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station, but Blue Origin, the Seattle-area space venture founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is now positioned to potentially play a part, as well.

During an event at the National Press Club today, Bezos was on hand to announce an agreement with United Launch Alliance, the joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, for Blue Origin develop a new BE-4 rocket engine for ULA — with the potential, at least, for the engine to be used in the NASA project for launching human crews into space.

The Blue Origin rocket engine would provide an alternative to a the Russian RD-180, which currently powers ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket, according to Space News.

Here’s the full news release from Blue Origin and ULA.

United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin Announce Partnership To Develop New American Rocket Engine

Centennial, Colo. and Kent, Wash. – Sept. 17, 2014 – United Launch Alliance (ULA), the nation’s premier space launch company, and Blue Origin, LLC, a privately-funded aerospace company owned by founder Jeff Bezos, announced today that they have entered into an agreement to jointly fund development of the new BE-4 rocket engine by Blue Origin. This new collaboration will allow ULA to maintain the heritage, success and reliability of its rocket families – Atlas and Delta – while addressing the long-term need for a new domestic engine.

“This agreement ensures ULA will remain the most cost-efficient, innovative and reliable company launching the nation’s most important national security, civil, human and commercial missions,” said Tory Bruno, president and chief executive officer of ULA. “Blue Origin has demonstrated its ability to develop high-performance rocket engines and we are excited to bring together the best minds in engineering, supply chain management and commercial business practices to create an all-new affordable, reliable, American rocket engine that will create endless possibilities for the future of space launch.”

“ULA has put a satellite into orbit almost every month for the past eight years – they’re the most reliable launch provider in history and their record of success is astonishing,” said Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin. “The team at Blue Origin is methodically developing technologies to enable human access to space at dramatically lower cost and increased reliability, and the BE-4 is a big step forward. With the new ULA partnership, we’re accelerating commercial development of the next great US-made rocket engine.”

The ULA/Blue Origin agreement allows for a four-year development process with full-scale testing in 2016 and first flight in 2019. The BE-4 will be available for use by ULA and Blue Origin for both companies’ next generation launch systems.

The BE-4 is a liquid oxygen, liquefied natural gas (LNG) rocket engine that delivers 550,000-lbf of thrust at sea level. Two BE-4s will power each ULA booster, providing 1,100,000-lbf thrust at liftoff. ULA is investing in the engineering and development of the BE-4 to enable availability for national security, civil, human and commercial missions. Development of the BE-4 engine has been underway for three years and testing of BE-4 components is ongoing at Blue Origin’s test facilities in West Texas. Blue Origin recently commissioned a new large test facility for the BE-4 to support full engine testing.

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