Aerospace

Blue Origin Will Build Rocket Engine Plant in Alabama

A Blue Origin BE-4 engine at the company’s Kent-based factory is readied for transport. (Courtesy: Blue Origin)

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin aerospace company has announced that they will build its BE-4 rocket engines in Huntsville, Alabama.

It’s a move that Alabama Governor Kay Ivey said will bring more than 340 manufacturing jobs and $200 million in capital investments to the city. Blue Origin claims the average salary for the new employees will be $75,000.

“We are excited to welcome Blue Origin to Alabama. I must commend founder Jeff Bezos and company President Robert Meyerson for their vision to create this innovative company, and for choosing to make Alabama its home sweet home,” said Ivey. “Because of this investment, more Alabamians can provide a better living for their families, and it helps cement Alabama as the preferred destination for the aerospace industry.”

Huntsville is home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and more than 300 aerospace and defense contractors – which has earned it the nickname “Rocket City.” Blue Origin President Robert Meyerson said his company picked Huntsville because of its “skilled workforce and leading role in rocket propulsion development.”

According to Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle, Blue Origins will hire engineers, designers, advanced manufacturers, and other skilled professionals. He estimates the factory will generate approximately 700 other jobs at nearby restaurants and stores.

Blue Origin’s newly announced New Glenn rockets will feature reusable first stages, and the two-stage and three-stage versions will be 270 feet (82 meters) and 313 feet (95 m) tall, respectively.

The company plans to use seven BE-4 engines to power its massive rocket called the New Glenn – named after astronaut John Glenn – which is supposed to launch before 2020. The engines were designed, and are currently being tested, at the company’s headquarters in Kent, WA. The BE-4 is fueled by liquid oxygen and liquified natural gas and can produce 550,000 pounds of thrust. The engines are designed to be reused for about 25 missions.

Blue Origins may also be awarded a contract by United Launch Alliance (ULA) to build engines for their Vulcan rocket. ULA has several contracts with the US military and NASA to launch their satellites, but continues to compete against SpaceX for future launches.

Another space company – Aerojet Rocketdyne – is also in the running to provide the engine for the Vulcan, and their facility is also in Huntsville.

The announcement of Blue Origin’s facility has also brought cooperation between the City of Huntsville, City of Madison, and Madison County for the benefit of local students. The three entities have provided funding for their respective schools systems to launch an experiment aboard a Blue Origin rocket in 2018. The school systems will select teams and work alongside the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber and Dream Up – an organization that supports space-based learning – to design and develop their payload.

“Blue Origin’s presence will have a positive impact on our State, our region and our community,” said Chip Cherry, President and CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber. “This is an important development for Cummings Research Park’s next era of expansion and we look forward to a long and productive relationship with Blue Origin.”

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