The engine for Blue Origin’s lunar lander, which has been in development for several years, will be tested at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center among a crop of engines coming from the company’s brand-new engine factory in Huntsville, Alabama.
The engine manufacturing facility opened in Huntsville, also known as “The Rocket City,” on Feb. 17. In addition to the BE-7 engines that will be used in Blue Origin’s lunar lander, the factory will produce BE-4 and BE-3U engines, all of which will go on to be tested at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, also in Huntsville.
Blue Origin is excited by how this new facility and new testing will advance their spaceflight capabilities. “At the core of every successful launch vehicle program are the engines that power those vehicles to space,” Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said in a statement. He continued, “it’s an exciting time for Blue, our partners and this country — we are on the path to deliver on our promise to end the reliance on Russian-made engines.”
The engines from this facility, along with the BE-7, will make their way to Marshall Space Flight Center.
But, while the engines from the new facility will be tested at Marshall on test stand 4670, the BE-7 will be tested at an Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) facility at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The “AFRL facility was chosen as a perfect fit for the BE-7 engine thrust rating, physical size and existing capability to test a space engine in vacuum,” Eric Blumer, senior director for the BE-7 engine at Blue Origin, told Space.com in an email.
The facility already has some capabilities to create a “space-like” environment for testing. “The test site 1-42 at Edwards AFB [Air Force Base] can already test small engines in a “space-like” vacuum environment,” Blumer said. But the facility is also being modified to test the BE-7.
“The major facility modification being funded by Blue Origin is to add liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant capabilities,” he added.
Though testing the BE-7 is the primary purpose of these upgrades, the newly improved facility also will be used to test other pieces of hardware and engines.
“Blue Origin does plan to ‘piggyback’ parts of the lander that interface to the BE-7 engine to reduce vehicle integration risks and mature the vehicle parts with engine interfaces along with the engine,” he said. In other words, some of the pieces that will be tested at this facility, other than the BE-7, will be parts of the lander itself that will join with the lander’s engine.