Amazon Founder Signs Deal To Develop American-Made Rocket Engines

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Bezos’ Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance will co-develop rocket engine based on Russian RD-180, no longer available since a congressional trade ban

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ space venture Blue Origin has signed a deal with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to co-develop a rocket engine to power the next generation of ULA launch vehicles.

ULA and Blue Origin will jointly work on an alternative to the Russian RD-180 engines that are currently in use with ULA’s Atlas V booster rocket.

Trade ban

The deal comes in response to a congressional trade ban imposed on Russia following its involvement with Ukraine, cutting off ULA’s supply of RD-180 engines that are also used for the US military.

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BE-4 test © Blue Origin

The two companies will develop the BE-4 engine, with development to finish in 2017. The engines will then support the first Vulcan flight in 2019, ULA’s next generation booster rocket.

“This agreement gets us closer to having an affordable, domestic and innovative engine that will help the Vulcan rocket exceed the capability of the Atlas V on its first flight and open brand new opportunities for the nation’s use of space,” said Tory Bruno, president and chief executive officer of ULA.

ULA said that Blue Origin, which was founded six years after Amazon in 2000, will bring its “innovative” engineering concepts to the partnership, along with a commitment to lower the overall cost of spaceflight.

Jeff Bezos said that the BE-4 engine test program is already in full swing, with prototypes having been tested 60 times so far.

“This new agreement is an important step toward building BE-4s at the production rate needed for the Vulcan launch vehicle,” said Bezos.

At the same time, ULA, which is a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, is considering a $2 billion cash offer from Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Reuters has reported.

Tech entrepreneurs in spaaaaace

But Amazon’s Bezos isn’t the only man in charge of a multi-billion dollar tech enterprise that has extra-orbital ambitions. Elon Musk, the man behind PayPal and electric car company Tesla has devoted much of his recent time into developing SpaceX, the private space exploration company that is currently building a capsule to shuttle crew to the International Space Station (ISS).

This week, Musk revealed SpaceX’s plans for the capsule, called the Crew Dragon, which show luxurious seats as well as futuristic-looking control surfaces.

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