Blue Origin will expand its existing BE-4 engine production capability already established at its Kent, Wash.-development facility to accommodate the initial production rate needed for United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) next-generation Vulcan launch vehicle.

Blue Origin spokesman declined Thursday to provide further detail. The two companies announced Thursday in a press release an agreement to expand BE-4 production capabilities. The announcement comes on the heels of a rumored $2 billion Aerojet Rocketdyne [AJRD] offer for ULA, first reported on Tuesday by Reuters.

Photo: NASA.
Photo: NASA.

ULA and Blue Origin said the BE-4 offers the fastest path to a domestic alternative to the Russian RD-180, which, by law, will be phased out of use by 2019. BE-4 development is on schedule to achieve qualification for flight in 2017 to support the first Vulcan flight in 2019.

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos said in the press release the BE-4 engine test program has already had more than 60 staged-combustion tests.

The BE-4 is a liquid oxygen, liquefied natural gas (LNG) rocket engine that delivers 550,000 pounds of thrust (lbf) at sea level. Two BE-4s would power each ULA Vulcan booster, providing 1.1 million lbf at liftoff. ULA is teaming in the development of the BE-4 to enable availability for national security, civil, human and commercial missions. Development of the BE-4 has been underway for more than three years and testing of the BE-4 components is ongoing at Blue Origin’s test facilities in west Texas.

ULA is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Boeing [BA].