Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine is an essential part of Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ vision of getting millions of people living and working in space, so he’s anxious to show it works.
But not anxious enough to cut corners. The video he shared today on Twitter and Instagram shows a work in progress: a test firing of the methane-fueled BE-4 at Blue Origin’s facilities in West Texas, with the power dialed down to 65 percent of maximum and the blast limited to 114 seconds:
The engine tests are aimed at qualifying the engine not only for Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket, but for United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket as well.
Two years ago, ULA had thought the engine would get a thumbs-up by 2017. But nothing in rocket science comes easy: Last May, the test program suffered a setback when a set of engine powerpack hardware was lost.
A few months later, Bezos reported the first hot-fire test of a complete BE-4 engine. Further tests have continued in line with Blue Origin’s motto, “Gradatim Ferociter” (Step-by-Step, Ferociously).
The BE-4 has been the focus of attention at this week’s Satellite 2018 conference. ULA’s Vulcan and Blue Origin’s New Glenn are both due for their maiden launches in 2020, but the engine has to be ready first.
Investor’s Business Daily quoted United Launch Alliance’s CEO, Tory Bruno, as saying a decision had to be made “soon” on whether to stick with the BE-4 for the Vulcan or pivot to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 engine instead. .
Bruno said Blue Origin’s development timeline was still ahead of Aerojet’s. And the vibes coming from Bezos and other Blue Origin executives are positive. But what else would you expect?