Blue Origin Delivered A Methane Engine To The Assembly Site Of A Test Sample Of The Vulcan Rocket
Blue Origin delivered the BE4 methane engine to the factory where the Vulcan rocket is manufactured. This engine sample is not flight-certified and is intended for ground testing of a future rocket that will replace the Atlas-V, the main modern United Launch Alliance rocket.
The US intends to completely abandon the purchase of Russian RD-180 engines, which are currently used in the first stages of Atlas-V missiles. To do this, United Launch Alliance is developing a successor to Atlas-V, called Vulcan. Its first stage will be equipped with a pair of blue Origin BE-4 engines, each of which will develop 2.4 meganewtons of thrust, running on a methane-oxygen fuel pair.
Methane is considered the most promising fuel for future missiles. Its efficiency is higher than that of kerosene, 380 seconds of specific impulse versus 335. Besides, methane is much easier to use than hydrogen, which requires temperatures close to absolute zero and giant tanks.
On July 1, the BE4 sample was delivered to the United Launch Alliance Assembly facility in Alabama. Blue Origin notes that this is a test sample and it is not intended for space flights. The flights are preceded by bench tests, where the entire rocket stage will work together, and it is for these tests that the imported engine will be used. The delivery of the second sample from the required pair is expected by the end of July.
The first Vulcan flight is scheduled for 2021. It is expected that using the Centauri upper stage. The rocket will be able to deliver up to 27 tons to low-earth orbit, which is about one and a half times the capacity of Atlas-V. United Launch Alliance hopes that the use of cheaper methane will allow the company to compete with the prices of SpaceX. It is already known that the Dream Chaser of Sierra Nevada will fly on Vulcan.
Blue Origin is gradually becoming a serious player in the space technology market: recently, NASA selected a company to deliver people to the moon under the Artemis program. In addition to Blue Origin, methane is planned to be used in the ambitious Starship rocket from SpaceX, the prototype of which, however, recently exploded again during tests.