Alabama officials applaud major announcement from ULA and Blue Origin elevating state’s growing aerospace industry
United Launch Alliance (ULA) on Thursday announced the selection of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine to power ULA’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket, an announcement that was celebrated by Alabama officials as boosting Alabama’s booming aerospace industry and elevating the state’s leadership position in rocketry.
ULA, which produces Atlas V and Delta IV rockets at its facility in Decatur, said the Blue Origin engine will be used in the booster stage of the new launch vehicle, which will be assembled in Alabama. Blue Origin, which was founded by businessman Jeff Bezos, announced plans last year to open a factory in Huntsville if selected to manufacture the BE-4.
“I am pleased to learn that ULA has selected Blue Origin and new investments will be made in Alabama to expand our growing aerospace industry,” Governor Kay Ivey said in a press release.
She added, “Alabama has a rich history in aerospace and titans of innovation continue to choose Alabama as the place to develop new technology and develop 21st-century engines for future space utilization. I am excited about our new partnership with Blue Origin and their commitment to our state.”
Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Defense, also released a statement lauding the move and the skyrocketing aerospace industry in the state.
“Blue Origin and ULA will now be building rockets together as part of a new partnership – which will create hundreds of jobs and bring an investment of $200 million to our state. This is outstanding news,” Shelby outlined. “With Blue Origin’s first stage engine work in Huntsville, along with ULA’s manufacturing, assembly, and integration in Decatur, most of the Vulcan rocket will be made in Alabama. It is long past time that we build an exclusively American-made rocket, providing our nation with assured access to space.”
“This is a true testament to North Alabama’s world-class workforce and long history of supporting our nation’s space and defense. I am proud to represent a region that continues to attract such powerful companies. I welcome Blue Origin to Alabama and look forward to the groundbreaking of its new facility in Cummings Research Park,” Shelby concluded.
AL’s aerospace legacy continues! I’m pleased @ulalaunch has selected @blueorigin’s BE-4 engine to power the booster for their next-gen #VulcanCentaur rocket. I’m excited about our new partnership with #BlueOrigin & their commitment to our state. https://t.co/j2subK8aiX pic.twitter.com/BsoKUB1NtY
— Governor Kay Ivey (@GovernorKayIvey) September 27, 2018
Members of Alabama’s congressional delegation joined Ivey and Shelby in praising the important announcement.
— Rep. Bradley Byrne (@RepByrne) September 27, 2018
“No better place than Alabama to build engines and rockets!” Rep. Robert Aderholt (AL-4) said in a tweet.
Congratulations to @ulalaunch & @blueorigin on their rocket engine agreement. The Vulcan Centaur will combine ULA’s advanced manufacturing & 100% success-record with Blue Origin’s bold & responsible innovations in propulsion, specifically the LOX/LNG BE-4 engine.
— Rep. Robert Aderholt (@Robert_Aderholt) September 27, 2018
Local leaders from north Alabama joined in the celebration.
“Congratulations to United Launch Alliance and to Blue Origin. After a lengthy due diligence period by ULA, today’s announcement marks the beginning of U.S. independence for a variety space travel missions to include future deep space voyages,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.
Battle continued, “Huntsville is proud that both Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne will play a major role in ULA’s production of the Vulcan Centaur rocket. Huntsville led the U.S. propulsion revolution in the 60s, and we continue to do so with a thriving industry of rocket scientists and rocket producers. This is what we do better than anyone else in the world.”
— HsvMayorsOffice (@HsvMayorsOffice) September 27, 2018
“Today’s announcement is great news for the future of ULA in Morgan County,” Jeremy Nails, president and CEO of the Morgan County Economic Development Association, emphasized. “I’m proud of the fact that their next-generation Vulcan rocket is moving forward and will be built in our community.”
ULA is making strong progress in the development of the Vulcan Centaur, which is reportedly on track for its initial test flight in mid-2020. It said new rocket design is nearing completion, with booster preliminary design and critical design reviews already complete.
“We are pleased to enter into this partnership with Blue Origin and look forward to a successful first flight of our next-generation launch vehicle,” Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO, declared.
“Our new rocket will be superior in reliability, cost and capability – one system for all missions,” Bruno added. “We have been working closely with the U.S. Air Force, and our certification plan is in place.”
— ULA (@ulalaunch) September 27, 2018
In June 2017, Blue Origin announced that – if selected – the company would build a 400,000-square foot facility on 40 acres in Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second largest research park, to manufacture the BE-4 engine, ending the nation’s dependence on the Russian engine. The facility is estimated to manufacture up to 30 engines per year for both Decatur’s ULA plant and Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket. The company has noted that it will employ up to 350 workers in Alabama with an average salary of $75,000 a year.
Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, explained that ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket and Blue Origin’s engines will transmit a strong message around the world about the capabilities of Alabama’s aerospace manufacturing sector.
“The United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin are teaming to make a next-generation rocket a reality, and it will have deep roots in Alabama’s aerospace industry,” Canfield said. “Located just a few miles from the ULA assembly facility in Decatur, Blue Origin’s rocket engine manufacturing facility will be right at home in Huntsville, a hub of innovation for this industry for decades.”
When Blue Origin announced the conditional plans for its Huntsville facility last year, the company said the $200 million project would begin as soon as ULA awarded it a contract.
Blue Origin said it chose Huntsville for this major project because of its high-tech aerospace manufacturing workforce and ecosystem, including NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, nearly 300 private aerospace and defense contractors, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a top university for NASA research funding.
ULA said Aerojet Rocketdyne, which has a major presence in Huntsville, will provide RL10 engines for the Centaur upper stage. The Vulcan Centaur will boost American manufacturing by adding more than 22,000 direct and indirect jobs in 46 states supported by ULA programs. The company has made modifications to the 1.6 million-square-foot facility in Decatur, which employs more than 600 workers and has produced large rockets since opening in 1999.
ULA is the world’s most experienced and reliable launch service providers, having successfully delivered 130 satellites to orbit that enable global communications, provide observation capabilities, support life-saving technology and unlock the mysteries of the solar system.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn