Blue Origin officially opens Alabama rocket engine factory

Blue Origin officially opens Alabama rocket engine factory
Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith speaks at the official opening of the company's rocket engine factory in Huntsville. (contributed)

Blue Origin on Monday opened a sprawling factory in Alabama’s “Rocket City” that will allow the spaceflight company to accelerate production of its heavy-lift BE-4 rocket engine and create hundreds of jobs.

The BE-4, which is under development, will power Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket as well as the United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket, which is being produced at ULA’s factory in nearby Decatur.

Blue Origin will test its Alabama-made engines at Marshall Space Flight Center’s historic test stand 4670, where the Saturn V moon rocket’s engines were tested. The company founded by businessman Jeff Bezos is upgrading and refurbishing the test stand.

“This community is absolutely terrific to be a part of,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said during a grand opening ceremony at the facility Monday. “It has the kind of spirit that you want when developing this kind of technology and actually has the history that you can feel proud about.”

Blue Origin’s 350,000-square-foot facility in Cummings Research Park will employ more than 300 people. Smith said around 200 jobs should be created over the next year.

The Kent, Washington-based company announced its $200 million investment in June 2017, with construction beginning in Huntsville a little more than a year ago.

‘Made in Alabama’

Hanging above the Blue Origin factory floor on Monday were an American flag and a Made in Alabama banner.

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the grand-opening ceremony stemmed from talks with the company that began in 2016.

Blue Origin officially opens its Huntsville rocket engine factory on Monday. (Blue Origin)

The project received a couple of code names before being renamed “Project Rumble,” a reference to the roar of large rocket engines being tested once again at Marshall, just as they were during the Apollo program.

“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,” Canfield said.

“Huntsville is a hub of innovation in every facet of aerospace, making it the perfect home for this Blue Origin facility.”

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 of the BE-4 began in 2011. Blue Origin expects to deliver the first two production BE-4 engines this year for static hot-fire tests after integration with ULA’s Vulcan.

Blue Origin is also expected to produce a variant of its BE-3 upper stage engine at the Alabama facility.

“Our facility will be home to the next generation of rocket engines, as well as the next generation of engine builders,” the company tweeted.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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