Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin to Build New Rocket Engine for US Launch Provider

Jeff Bezos at a news conference
Jeff Bezos looks on as a new model of Blue Origin's BE-4 liquid rocket engine is revealed during a press event on Sept. 17, 2014. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance Instagram)

Blue Origin, the secretive private spaceflight company led by billionaire Jeff Bezos, has teamed up with a veteran space launch provider to build a new rocket engine designed to reduce U.S. dependence on Russian hardware. 

In an announcement today (Sept. 17), Bezos and the launch provider United Launch Alliance unveiled plans to develop Blue Origin's new BE-4 liquid rocket engine. The new partnership will allow ULA's next-generation rockets to come equipped with engines that are built in America. At the moment, ULA uses Russian-made RD-180 engines to power its Atlas 5 rockets.

"ULA has put a satellite into orbit almost every month for the past eight years – they're the most reliable launch provider in history and their record of success is astonishing," Bezos, founder of Blue Origin and, said in a statement. "The team at Blue Origin is methodically developing technologies to enable human access to space at dramatically lower cost and increased reliability, and the BE-4 is a big step forward. With the new ULA partnership, we're accelerating commercial development of the next great US-made rocket engine." [Photos: Glimpses of Blue Origin's Private Spaceships]

A model of Blue Origin's BE-4 rocket engine on display on Sept. 17, 2014. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance Instagram)

The United Launch Alliance is currently launches most U.S. government and military satellites using its Atlas 5 rockets, as well as Delta 4 booster variants. The company is a cooperative venture by Boeing and Lockheed Martin. 

Blue Origin's partnership with ULA states that full-scale BE-4 engine testing should begin in 2016, with the first flight due for launch in 2019, according to representatives. Although ULA and Blue Origin did not release the cost of development for the BE-4 engine, it will be privately funded. Blue Origin and ULA have committed to funding it 100 percent for the next five years. Blue Origin began testing its BE-3 rocket engine in 2013.

"This agreement ensures ULA will remain the most cost-efficient, innovative and reliable company launching the nation's most important national security, civil, human and commercial missions," Tory Bruno, president and CEO of ULA, said in today's statement. "Blue Origin has demonstrated its ability to develop high-performance rocket engines and we are excited to bring together the best minds in engineering, supply chain management and commercial business practices to create an all-new affordable, reliable, American rocket engine that will create endless possibilities for the future of space launch."

Tensions between the United States and Russia have been heightened due to Russia's involvement with the conflict in the Ukraine. Because of that political situation, ULA has come under fire for its use of the Russian rocket engines.

Today's Blue Origin-ULA rocket engine news is the second time in two days that a commercial spaceflight vernture including Boeing has made headlines. 

On Tuesday (Sept. 16), NASA announced that Boeing's manned CST-100 spacecraft, which is slated to launch on Atlas 5 rockets, was one of two vehicles picked to fly American astronauts as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Transportation Capability program. Blue Origin's BE-4 engine won't serve as a direct replacement for RD-180s that power Atlas 5 rockets. Instead, Blue Origin's new engine will outfit ULA's next generation of rockets, according to Blue origin representatives.

NASA also picked the Dragon spacecraft developed by California-based SpaceX, led by billionaire Elon Musk, as its second commercial space taxi for astronauts. The announcement Tuesday came after a four-year competition of aerospace companies that included Blue Origin's Space Vehicle and the Dream Chaser space plane developed by Sierra Nevada among the spacecraft contenders.

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Miriam Kramer
Staff Writer

Miriam Kramer joined as a Staff Writer in December 2012. Since then, she has floated in weightlessness on a zero-gravity flight, felt the pull of 4-Gs in a trainer aircraft and watched rockets soar into space from Florida and Virginia. She also served as's lead space entertainment reporter, and enjoys all aspects of space news, astronomy and commercial spaceflight.  Miriam has also presented space stories during live interviews with Fox News and other TV and radio outlets. She originally hails from Knoxville, Tennessee where she and her family would take trips to dark spots on the outskirts of town to watch meteor showers every year. She loves to travel and one day hopes to see the northern lights in person. Miriam is currently a space reporter with Axios, writing the Axios Space newsletter. You can follow Miriam on Twitter.