Blue Origin is official choice for new ULA rocket’s booster engines

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Blue Origin will provide rocket engines for the United Launch Alliance's next rocket in development, and those engines mean more jobs in Huntsville.

Jeff Bezos's space company will provide its BE-4 rocket engines for the Vulcan Centaur, which ULA said is nearing design completion.

"We worked with them over five years," mayor Tommy Battle said. "And the goal was to have an American made engine that could take these rockets into space."

The Blue Origin engines will power the rocket's booster stage. Aerojet Rocketdyne will provide engines for the upper stage of the rocket.

United Launch Alliance has spent years planning its new Vulcan Centaur rocket. They picked Blue Origin, the company owned by amazon founder Jeff Bezos, to build the rocket's engines. Blue Origin leaders reached a handshake deal to manufacture in Huntsville.

"400 jobs and $200 million worth of investment," Mayor Battle said.

"They [ULA] have a very strong record of successful flights. So they are used to working with partners who have that same mindset," Cummings Research Park executive director Erin Koshut said.

Koshut says Blue Origin plans to set up shop on 46 acres in Research Park. They'll be building engines known as BE-4s. The Vulcan rocket needs two of those engines to take off. And they hope eventually the plant can build 30 of the BE-4s a year.

"I think they're very aggressive. They want to move fast and be able to produce engines as quickly as possible," Mayor Battle said.

The Vulcan follows ULA's Atlas V and is designed to carry over 4,000 more cubic feet of payload.

"To see their facility come up out of the ground. I think people will be surprised by the speed in which they move," Koshut said.

"We can say the sky's not the limit," Mayor Battle said.

Project leaders hope to break ground before winter, with hopes of seeing the Vulcan launch by 2021.

“We are very glad to have our BE-4 engine selected by United Launch Alliance. United Launch Alliance is the premier launch service provider for national security missions, and we’re thrilled to be part of their team and that mission,” said Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith.

Blue Origin will make the engine at a facility in Cummings Research Park in Huntsville. United Launch Alliance has its manufacturing, assembly and integration facility in Decatur. An estimated 350 jobs will be created at the facility.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R.-Ala., said the partnership between ULA and Blue Origin will create hundreds of jobs and bring an investment of $200 million to Alabama.

"This is a true testament to North Alabama's world-class workforce and long history of supporting our nation's space and defense," Shelby said. "I am proud to represent a region that continues to attract such powerful companies."

"Huntsville is proud that both Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne will play a major role in ULA's production of the Vulcan Centaur rocket," Battle said. "Huntsville led the US propulsion revolution in the 1960s, and we continue to do so with a thriving industry of rocket scientists and rocket producers. This is what we do better than anyone else in the world."

Officials said ULA plans to have an initial test flight for the Vulcan Centaur in mid-2020.