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Shelby Says Space United Launch Alliance’s Announcement is Great News for Alabama

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Wednesday, September 17, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R from Alabama) released a written statement in response to United Launch Alliance’s announcement that it plans to develop an American-made rocket engine to replace the Russian-built RD-180. Senator Shelby said that this is great news for Alabama.

Senator Shelby said, “United Launch Alliance’s announcement today is great news for the future of Alabama and our nation’s defense and space industries. North Alabama has a long history of serving our country’s needs, from the development of vehicles to take humans to the Moon, to building rockets that deliver today’s science and defense missions. That heritage lives on today with ULA’s launch vehicle work in North Alabama. The partnership announced today for plans to develop an American-made rocket engine to replace the RD-180 will allow the US to expand our capabilities and further reduce our reliance on Russia. ULA has achieved an impressive 100 percent mission success record since its formation, and I look forward to their future success with this new endeavor.”

On Wednesday, September 17 United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin announced a partnership to develop a new American rocket engine. According to a joint statement, the pair of companies have entered into an agreement to jointly fund development of the new BE-4 rocket engine by Blue Origin. This new collaboration will allow ULA to maintain the heritage, success and reliability of its rocket families – Atlas and Delta – while addressing the long-term need for a new domestic engine.

The Chief Executive Officer of ULA said, “This agreement ensures ULA will remain the most cost-efficient, innovative and reliable company launching the nation’s most important national security, civil, human and commercial missions. Blue Origin has demonstrated its ability to develop high-performance rocket engines and we are excited to bring together the best minds in engineering, supply chain management and commercial business practices to create an all-new affordable, reliable, American rocket engine that will create endless possibilities for the future of space launch.”

ULA and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said, “ULA has put a satellite into orbit almost every month for the past eight years – they’re the most reliable launch provider in history and their record of success is astonishing. The team at Blue Origin is methodically developing technologies to enable human access to space at dramatically lower cost and increased reliability, and the BE-4 is a big step forward. With the new ULA partnership, we’re accelerating commercial development of the next great US-made rocket engine.”

The ULA/Blue Origin agreement calls for a four-year development process with full-scale testing in 2016 and first flight in 2019. The BE-4 will be available for use by ULA and Blue Origin for both companies’ next generation launch systems.

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The BE-4 will be a liquid oxygen, liquefied natural gas (LNG) rocket engine that delivers 550,000-lbf of thrust at sea level. Two BE-4s will power each ULA booster, providing 1,100,000-lbf thrust at liftoff. ULA is investing in the engineering and development of the BE-4 to enable availability for national security, civil, human and commercial missions. Development of the BE-4 engine has been underway for three years and testing of BE-4 components is ongoing at Blue Origin’s test facilities in West Texas. Blue Origin recently commissioned a new large test facility for the BE-4 to support full engine testing.

According to information from the company website, United Launch Alliance (ULA) was formed in December 2006 and is a 50-50 joint venture owned by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company. ULA combines the experience of the Atlas and Delta rocket teams to provide reliable, cost-efficient space launch services for the U.S. government. U.S. government launch customers include the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office and other organizations. Atlas and Delta expendable launch vehicles have supported America’s presence in space for more than 50 years. ULA produces the: Atlas V, Delta II, and Delta IV space launch vehicles.

Blue Origin, LLC (Blue Origin) is a private company that is developing vehicles and technologies to enable commercial human space transportation. Blue Origin is owned by founder Jeff Bezos.

In recent years the relationship between Russia and the United States has deteriorated. In just the last twelve months: the United States has covertly supported the toppling of a pro-Russian government in Ukraine, the United States has condemned Russia’s policy on gay rights, Russia has invaded and seized the Crimea from Ukraine, Russia has sent troops and military equipment to support a pro-Russian rebel movement that has seized a large swath of territory in Eastern Ukraine from the pro-West Ukrainian government. Both the U.S. and Russia have leveled economic sanctions on each other making the close collaboration the two countries’ space programs much more difficult to maintain.

Sen. Shelby is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Subcommittee on Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS). Sen. Shelby has represented Alabama in the United States Senate since his election in 1986.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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