07:49 GMT +319 September 2019
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    Blue Origin Tests Rocket Engine as US Seeks to Replace Russian RD-180

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    The new engine has been in development for seven years already. The US space program currently relies on the RD-180 engine to propel the Atlas V rocket, the only American vehicle capable of sending heavy payloads into orbit.

    American aerospace company Blue Origin has released video footage showing a recent test of its Blue Engine 4 (BE-4) next-generation rocket engine, which is planned to replace the Russian-produced RD-180 engine in  future American space launches.

    During the test, Blue Origin managed to exceed its specific impulse targets (Isp), the company said in a Twitter post. Specific impulse is a measure indicating how effectively a jet engine uses fuel.

    The company also said it continues "to exercise the deep throttling of our full scale 550,000 lbf BE-4, the reusability of our hydrostatic pump bearings and our stable start/stop cycles."

    ​The video shows a test of the engine’s ability to throttle. Engine throttling helps manage the acceleration of a rocket. Usually, a rocket goes at full throttle, but throttling capabilities are crucial for a reusable rocket.

    Blue Origin has been working on the BE-4 engine for the last seven years. A fully assembled BE-4 engine was unveiled in March 2017.

    In October 2016, Blue Origin’s founder Jeff Bezos announced that the company had successfully conducted the first firing test of the new engine.

    ​The BE-4 engine is planned to power the Vulcan rocket which is being built by the United Launch Alliance (ULA). The Vulcan is planned to replace the Atlas V rocket, which relies on the RD-180 engine.

    It is also expected that the new engine will be used to propel the New Glenn heavy rocket, which is also being developed by Blue Origin.

    READ MORE: NASA's New Ion Thruster Breaks Records, Could Propel Manned Mission to Mars

    The United States has used the reliable and relatively cheap RD-180, designed and manufactured by NPO Energomash, since 2000.

    In 2014, US lawmakers imposed limits on future RD-180 purchases, passing a law that required the US to phase out the Russian-made engines in favor of domestically produced next-generation rocket propulsion systems.

    However, in December 2015, the US Congress passed a budget that includes a provision allowing the country to continue buying the Russian RD-180 rocket engines. Shortly after, the ULA ordered an additional 20 RD-180 engines at the request of the Pentagon.

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    Tags:
    RD-180, BE-4 engine, Blue Origin, Russia, United States
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