Blue Origin tests most powerful American-built rocket engine in decades

Blue Origin's BE-4 rocket engine is said to be more powerful than Space Shuttle's main engine and SpaceX's Raptor engine.

Humanity's space exploration efforts are the most thrilling point today. Space flight companies are moving at rapid speed to stay ahead in the race and with all the developments, it seems that we are about to reach "where no man has gone before" soon. In the latest development, Blue Origin has successfully conducted a landmark test by firing up its Blue Engine 4 (BE-4) rocket engine for the very first time.

The said rocket engine by Amazon's founder Jeff Bezos' spaceflight company is said to be the most powerful American-built rocket engine in decades.

The hot fire test took place this week at Blue Origin's testing ground near the town of Van Horn in West Texas. During the test, the BE-4 engine fired at up to 50% power for three seconds, reported Ars Technica.

Blue Origin had started developing the BE-4 in 2011 but it was only in 2014 that the company made the developments public. As per Popular Mechanics, it is the first engine that has been developed almost entirely with private money, which makes the test all the more interesting. This fully reusable giant engine, capable of pumping out 550,000 pounds of thrust at sea level marks Blue Origin's entry into the deep space and heavy launch sector. As per the claims of the company, BE-4 is more powerful than the Space Shuttle's main engine and SpaceX's Raptor engine.

Billionaire tech mogul Jeff Bezos and his company had initially set their focus on developing a small, reusable, suborbital rocket called New Shepard. In November 2015, it made history when it launched the New Shepard and it came back for a landing. It was the first time a rocket booster had returned for a vertical landing. Blue Origin went on to fly and land that same rocket for four more times, points out the report.

However, BE-4 is here to take on the big missions. Blue Origin plans to use this engine in its own heavy-lift rocket New Glenn, which is supposed to be bigger and more powerful than a SpaceX Falcon 9. While the 230-feet tall Falcon 9 is capable of putting 1.7 million pounds of thrust, the 270-feet tall New Glenn comes with 3.85 million pounds of thrust, reports the publication. As per Blue Origin's optimistic and ambitious plans, New Glenn will take off for the first time in 2020.

However, Bezos may put the BE-4 to use before that. In 2015 United Launch Alliance — a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin – had announced its plans to use the BE-4 in its upcoming Vulcan rocket. Although Aerojet Rocketdyne has, over the years, built all the rocket engines for ULA and is also offering the AR1 liquid kerosene/oxygen engine for Vulcan, ULA has expressed preference for the BE-4. If all the testings go smoothly for the BE-4, we may get to see it in Vulcan.

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ULA, which had previously dominated the industry with all government satellite launch contracts in its kitty, was recently dethroned by SpaceX, which has undercut the company for national security launch contracts. Boeing and Lockheed Martin's JV is looking to gain back its place in the industry with Vulcan.