Blue Origin’s new rocket engine just took its first fiery breath on Thursday, a major step forward in the quest to end U.S. reliance on Russian engines.
The commercial space outfit, headed by Amazon(Tech30) CEO Jeff Bezos, took to Twitter to announced the BE-4 engine survived its first test fire. ,
The rocket engine has been under development for more than six years, and a successful test fire confirms the engine is on track to become operational within the first couple years of the 2020s.
The BE-4 is a big deal for Blue Origin, which plans to useit to power its New Glenn rocket — a massive machine that will be capable of sending satellites into orbit and competing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX for launch contracts.
It’s also a big deal for the private space industry in general.
The BE-4’s stated goal is “to end American dependence on the Russian-made RD-180 engine.”
In addition to using the engine in its own rockets, Blue Origin hopes to sell the BE- 4 to United Launch Alliance — a joint venture between Boeing( and )Lockheed Martin( — for use on its new rocket series, called Vulcan. )
Vulcan is the answer to an ongoing problem for ULA: Its Atlas V rocket relies on the Russian RD-180engine, making the government wary of using the rocket for sensitive national security payloads.
ULA does have an alternative. It currently produces a rocket called Delta IV, which uses American-made engines and has frequently been used to launch payloads for the U.S. military.
But Delta IV is very expensive to manufacture — nearly twice as expensive as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 by some estimates.
ULA is looking to retire the Delta IV and begin makingthe new Vulcan series, which will be more competitive with SpaceX price-wise. And, taking a page out of SpaceX’s playbook, Vulcan rockets will be partially reusable.
That means instead of discarding a rocket after a single launch, it’ll be able to fly again and again, significantly reducing the price of a single launch.