Module containing high efficient turbo pumps installed in BE-4 engine was subject of failure during last test fire of this engine performed at Van Horn test facility belonging to Blue Origin – manufacturer and designer of BE-4.
Blue Origin offers BE-4 as main engine for United Launch Alliance future Vulcan rocket and also is planning o use it as main propulsion for the first stage of their New Glenn heavy rocket. New Glenn is independent project developed by Blue Origin with announced maiden flight in 2020 and is considered as second after Falcon-9 already offered by SpaceX reusable rocket on the market.
History of BE-4 started in 2011; engine will be fueled with LOX/liquid methane propellant and operating in single-shaft oxygen-rich staged combustion cycle. With potential thrust at 2400 kN it was considered with BE-3 engine as important part of Company’s portfolio. It will be able to power first stages of the large heavy rockets including New Glenn or Vulcan. To remind BE-4 will be largest LOX/Methane fueled engine ever created – due this fact many technical problems appeared for the first time in history during its development. First prototype was assembled in March 2017 after years of development and trials. Also this year United Launch Alliance, most important Customer, announced that decided to wait with decision about selecting engine for their Vulcan launch vehicle until BE-4 will pass fire tests.
Test performed at Van Horn on Sunday, 13th May, was planned as the part of test program. During test fire module containing turbo pumps, valves, piping and many other crucial elements, was destroyed. Blue Origin has not announced any details yet – we do not know how long test was planned to last or how long engine really worked before malfunction. Company declared only that following fire tests will not suffer large delays and whole module will be probably replaced- again it was not directly confirmed by Company. From the point of view of Blue Origin any delay is huge problem – advanced development of the project was one of the most important advantage over main competitor – Aerojet Rocketdyne and their AR1 engine, which is not even planning test fires in 2017; company managed to perform preburner hot-fire tests in the beginning of the May 2017, but assembling of the first units is still planned for 2019. To remind first Vulcan rocket will fly in 2019, so in fact AR will leave only months for ULA to integrate engines with their rocket and perform static fire tests. If Blue Origin catch some delay it will be dangerously close to date of presentation of AR1 and will strength in this way position of the competitor.