2023 Author: Bryan Walter | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-05-21 22:24
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has announced that it will use Blue Origin's BE-4 methane engines in its Vulcan heavy-class rocket under development. Two of these engines will be installed in the first stage of the rocket, and after the completion of the stage, the engine block will be detached and parachuted for subsequent use in other launches.
The Vulcan heavy missile is being considered by ULA as a replacement for the Atlas V and Delta IV missiles in use today. In part, the development of the new carrier is due to the fact that Atlas V uses Russian RD-180 engines, the supply of which was in jeopardy due to the deterioration of Russian-American relations. Vulcan will be capable of launching payloads weighing up to 25 tons into low-earth orbit. The rocket will have two stages, the first of which will use two engines, and the second from one to four, depending on the modification. In addition, up to six solid-propellant lateral boosters can be installed on the rocket for launching heavy satellites into low-earth orbit or spacecraft beyond low-earth orbit.
The choice of the engine for the second stage became known back in May, when ULA decided to use the RL10 hydrogen-oxygen engine developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne. The company also competed for the first stage engines with an AR1 kerosene engine, but ULA chose Blue Origin's BE-4 methane engines.
The BE-4 is a closed circuit liquid propellant rocket engine with a maximum thrust of 2,400 kilonewtons. The first firing tests of the engine took place in October 2017. This engine was probably chosen by ULA because it was designed by Blue Origin engineers to be reusable over dozens of launches. It is known that ULA plans to reduce the cost of Vulcan launches by reusing the first stage engines. After the completion of the stage operation, the block with both motors will separate from the stage housing and open the heat shield. In the atmosphere, the unit will release a parachute and slowly descend, after which it will be captured by a helicopter and delivered to a ship in the ocean or shore. The company claims that such a scheme is much more profitable than the return of the entire first stage used by SpaceX.
In addition to selling BE-4 engines to third-party companies, Blue Origin plans to use them in New Glenn's own heavy rocket. The company plans to use it to deliver payloads to both low-Earth orbit and circumlunar.
Other companies and organizations also have projects of methane liquid-propellant rocket engines. For example, SpaceX is developing the Raptor engine for the BFR super-heavy rocket and has been testing prototypes since 2016. In addition, methane engines are created at NPO Energomash. In 2016, its specialists tested an engine with a thrust of 40 tons, and at the end of 2017 completed the preliminary design of an engine with a thrust of 85 tons.