Blue Origin will test Alabama-made rocket engines at historic NASA site

Blue Origin will test Alabama-made rocket engines at historic NASA site
An F-1 rocket engine is tested on the 300-foot vertical test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. The stand, constructed in 1965 and unused since 1998, will return to service to test Blue Origin rocket engines built in Huntsville. (NASA/Marshall)

Private space company Blue Origin will refurbish the historic test stands at Marshall Space Flight Center to support testing of the BE-3U and BE-4 rocket engines built at a new Blue Origin facility in Huntsville.

Test Stand 4670 served as the backbone for Saturn V propulsion testing for the Apollo program, which delivered man to the moon 50 years ago.

“We’re excited to welcome Blue Origin to our growing universe of commercial partners,” Marshall Center Director Jody Singer said. “This agreement ensures the test stand will be used for the purpose it was built.”

Following the Apollo program, Test Stand 4670 was modified to support testing of the space shuttle external tank and main engine systems. The facility, constructed in 1965, has been inactive since 1998.

NASA identified the 300-foot-tall, vertical firing test stand at Marshall as an underutilized facility and posted a notice of availability in 2017 to gauge commercial interest in its use. Blue Origin responded and a team began exploring the proposed partnership.

“This test stand once helped power NASA’s first launches to the Moon, which eventually led to the emergence of an entirely new economic sector – commercial space,” NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard said. “Now, it will have a role in our ongoing commitment to facilitate growth in this sector.”

Alabama-built engines

Blue Origin, the spaceflight company founded by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, earlier this year began construction on a $200 million manufacturing facility in Huntsville that will manufacture the BE-3U and BE-4 engines.

The BE-4 engine was selected to power United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan rocket, which will be assembled at the ULA facility in Decatur, and Blue Origin’s New Glenn launch vehicle. Both are being developed to serve the expanding civil, commercial and national security space markets.

“I am thrilled about this partnership with NASA to acceptance test both BE-4 and BE-3U engines at Test Stand 4670, the historic site for testing the Saturn V first stage and the space shuttle main engines,” said Bob Smith, chief executive officer of Blue Origin.

“Through this agreement, we’ll provide for the refurbishment, restoration and modernization of this piece of American history – and bring the sounds of rocket engines firing back to Huntsville.”

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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