Blue Origin, the spaceflight company started by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, announced today that it will manufacture its BE-4 engine in a state-of-the art production facility to be built in Alabama’s Rocket City.
The new facility will be in Huntsville’s Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second-largest research park, and construction can begin once an engine production contract with United Launch Alliance (ULA) is awarded.
The BE-4 is America’s next rocket engine and will power ULA’s Vulcan rocket, if it’s selected for the project. The production of this engine would end the nation’s dependence on Russia for access to space for critical national security space systems.
‘Great state for aerospace’
Two BE-4s would be used on the Vulcan booster rocket. The BE-4 will also power Blue Origin’s New Glenn reusable launch system with seven BE-4s on the reusable first stage and a vacuum-optimized BE-4U on the second stage. Blue Origin awaits the final public approval of the local package by the city and county governments during July meetings.
Using the latest design and manufacturing techniques, the BE-4 is made for both commercial and government missions. The BE-4 uses oxygen-rich staged combustion of liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas to produce 550,000 pounds of thrust. Development began in 2011, and testing is under way.
“Alabama is a great state for aerospace manufacturing and we are proud to produce America’s next rocket engine right here in Rocket City,” said Robert Meyerson, president of Blue Origin.
“The area’s skilled workforce and leading role in rocket propulsion development make Huntsville the ideal location for our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility.”
Blue Origin will employ up to 342 people in the new facility. The company will make approximately $200 million in capital investment in the state.
“This announcement today is excellent news for our state. I am pleased to see Blue Origin investing in Alabama, and I look forward to working with them and other businesses to continue boosting economic development opportunities,” U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby said.
Under the Saturn V
Blue Origin’s project builds on that heritage and positions the Huntsville/Madison County community for a key role in the commercial space industry.
“We are excited to welcome Blue Origin to Alabama. I must commend founder Jeff Bezos and company President Robert Meyerson for their vision to create this innovative company, and for choosing to make Alabama its Home Sweet Home,” Gov. Kay Ivey said.
“Because of this investment, more men and women can provide a better living for their families, and it helps cement Alabama as the preferred destination for the aerospace industry,” she added.
Many economic development partners contributed to the effort to successfully recruit Blue Origin to the state as part of what was called “Project Eagle.” These partners include the Governor’s Office, the Alabama Department of Commerce, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the city of Huntsville, Madison County and the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.
“Blue Origin’s decision to locate its BE-4 engine manufacturing center in Huntsville reflects the deep and longstanding capabilities in the city that became the cradle of the nation’s rocket program,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.
“Huntsville is a hub of innovation in every facet of aerospace, making it the perfect home for this Blue Origin facility.”
Blue Origin said it chose Huntsville for this project because of the high-tech aerospace manufacturing workforce and ecosystem, including NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, nearly 300 private aerospace and defense contractors, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, number 14 in NASA research funding in the nation.
“Huntsville is proud to be the nation’s propulsion center of excellence, and we couldn’t ask for a better partner than Blue Origin to join our team,” Mayor Tommy Battle said.
“When you look at NASA’s visionary work at the Marshall Space Flight Center, the talent and capacity of Huntsville’s space industry partners, and our expertise in research and development, engineering and manufacturing, Blue Origin is joining a truly remarkable environment.”
Added Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong, “Today’s announcement ensures that our community will continue to be at the center of the world’s rocket propulsion development. Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin will build on the legacy of the German rocket team and the Marshall Space Flight Center to power the growing commercial rocket business that will be a critical part of our nation’s future space program.”
‘Center of excellence’
In support of Blue Origin, the city of Huntsville, city of Madison and Madison County have provided funding for their three school systems to launch an experiment on a Blue Origin rocket in summer 2018.
The school systems will determine how to select teams, and then they will work with the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber and Dream Up, an organization that supports space-based learning, to design and develop their payload.
“Blue Origin reinforces our region’s place as the Rocket City, and a center of excellence for rocket propulsion. Blue Origin’s presence will have a positive impact on our state, our region and our community,” said Chip Cherry, president and CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.
“This is an important development for Cummings Research Park’s next era of expansion, and we look forward to a long and productive relationship with Blue Origin.”
This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.