A full-power test of the BE-4 rocket engine will be held in West Texas in April.
Two sources say that Blue Origin is unlikely to deliver two flight ready versions of the BE-4 rocket engine to ULA before the second quarter of 2022. The debut flight of ULA's new rocket, Vulcan, could slip into 2023.
The space shuttle's main engines are not as powerful as the BE-4 engines that power the first stage of Vulcan. The sources said there was a small issue with the fabrication of the flight engines at Blue Origin's factory in Kent, Washington.
The company's test stands in West Texas will not be able to receive the engines until next year. Once there, each engine must be tested and re-CONFIGURATED before being moved to ULA's rocket assembly facility in northern Alabama. The rocket manufacturer's arrival of the engines is assumed to be in April 2022, and this assumes a smooth final production and testing phase.
A lot of people are riding on these engines.
ULA wouldn't comment on the specifics of the production issue. The company was disappointed that it did not get the two flight engines that it was supposed to.
The company said that they are disappointed that they won't be receiving the flight engines by the end of the year, but they will be arriving early next year. The certification program is moving well and the production engines are being manufactured. We are looking forward to the first launch of Vulcan.
It is not certain that Vulcan will make its debut in 2022. The launch of this rocket is a big deal, as it will replace both the Atlas and Delta rockets that ULA has flown. The US military is counting on Vulcan to lift about 60 percent of the nation's national security into space.
The US Space Force and ULA have already agreed to move the first military mission assigned to Vulcan onto an Atlas 5 rocket due to delays in development. ULA said that all of its remaining Atlas rockets will be used for other missions. It's not clear if other military missions can be moved off of Vulcan and onto an Atlas.
If the BE-4 engines arrive at ULA in April, the company will have about eight months to prepare the rocket for a test flight in 2022, which will carry a small lunar lander built by a private company.
This is the first time that ULA, which was formed out of the launch divisions of Boeing and Lockheed Martin in 2005, has taken delivery of a brand-new first-stage rocket engine as part of booster development. The first flight of the Delta and Atlas rockets took an average of 19 months from engine delivery to first flight.
The BE-4 rocket engine is not expected to take this long. ULA Chief Executive Tory Bruno explained why in response to a question from Ars during a reporters roundtable in December 2020. The ULA had taken delivery of "path finder" engines, which are nearly identical to the flight engines but not designed to be started.