HUNTSVILLE, AL — Blue Origin, the rocket company started and led by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, has opened a new rocket engine manufacturing plant here.
Blue Origin built the plant after winning a competition to provide the main engines for a new rocket called Vulcan Centaur that United Launch Alliance (ULA) is building in nearby Decatur, Alabama. The rocket will compete for satellite launches by commercial companies and the Air Force.
The Blue Origin plant covers 400,000 square feet in Cummings Research Park, will employ 400 workers at peak production and represents an investment of $200 million. It will do the heavy lifting to get ULA’s Vulcan off the launch pad. The upper stage will be powered by engines made by Aerojet Rocketdyne, which is also building a new Huntsville plant.
Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said when the plant was announced that Blue Origin adds a critical piece to the city’s future in space. “We always knew we needed commercial space,” Battle says. “This will add to our portfolio and truly make us the center of rocket propulsion for the world. There will be a lot of Huntsville in that rocket.”
Commercial space is a description for the new generation of space companies such as Blue Origin and SpaceX that are competing and partnering with legacy space companies like Aerojet Rocketdyne. Blue Origin is leading a team including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper Laboratory competing to build a lunar lander for America’s return to the Moon. The team’s lander is called Blue Moon.
Blue Origin chose Huntsville for the engine plant because of its high-tech aerospace manufacturing workforce and the presence of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, nearly 300 private aerospace and defense contractors, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a top university for NASA research funding. The body of the rocket will be built near Cape Canaveral, Florida.