The Air Force Research Laboratory and Blue Origin are developing a new test facility for the Blue Origin BE-7 lunar lander engine.
Improvements at the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) rocket lab at Edwards Air Force Base in California which are being funded by Blue Origin will enable the testing of the BE-7 engine in a simulated space-like environment. Planned work includes adding liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant capabilities, along with other facility upgrades.
The BE-7 engine is a high performance 10,000 lbs-thrust dual-expander cycle engine for in-space applications and will be used in Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lunar lander.
Blue Moon was revealed in May 2019 and is intended to autonomously transport astronauts, rovers and scientific research payloads to the lunar surface. The BE-7 engines it will use are powered by a mix of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, a fuel which could possibly be mined and derived from the moon’s water ice in the future.
NASA’s Glenn Research Centre and Johsnon Space Center are also working with Blue Origin to develop the power system for the Blue Moon lander.
The new AFRL test capabilities will support various development, qualification, and production acceptance tests of the BE-7 engine as part of a 15-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) signed during December.
The CRADA focuses on a public-private partnership to create an upper stage engine and in-space propulsion testing capability to support the USA’s near-term space objectives and provide infrastructure to support future commercial space requirements.
Eric Blumer, senior director for the BE-7 engine program at Blue Origin said, “We are thrilled to partner with the AFRL Aerospace Systems Directorate and their Rocket Propulsion Division at Edwards Air Force Base.
“Repurposing the infrastructure at the 1-42 test site enables us to accelerate development of the BE-7 engine for our Blue Moon lunar lander. It will play a critical role in Blue Origin’s support of the Artemis program to send women and men to the moon by 2024.”
Dan Brown, chief engineer of the AFRL Rocket Lab said, “Many of our engineers view this effort as a natural extension of AFRL’s early development of the F-1 engine in the 1950s that ultimately took humans to the moon on the Saturn V.”
“Facility improvements under this public private partnership will open the door for rocket engine testing beyond the BE-7 test campaigns. The new test capability enables the Air Force and future commercial partners to test advanced upper stage engines at relevant altitude conditions.”
Blue Origin was founded by Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon, in 2000 has a development facility in Kent, Washington, as well as facilities in Texas, Florida, and Alabama where they test rocket engines and conduct launch operations.