Enlarge / A Blue Origin BE-4 engine at the company’s Kent, Wash.-based factory is readied for transport to a test stand for full-scale testing. (credit: Jeff Bezos/Twitter)
In 2014, the rocket company United Launch Alliance (ULA) entered into an agreement with Blue Origin to jointly fund development of the latter company’s BE-4 rocket engine. While ULA didn’t commit to using the Blue Origin engine in its next-generation booster, its “significant” investment signaled it was enthused about the innovative rocket engine. However some members of Congress have been pushing ULA to use a different engine, the AR1, being developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

At the end of February, two US representatives, Mike Rogers of Alabama and Mac Thornberry of Texas, decided to push a little harder. On Feb. 28, they sent a letter to Lisa Disbrow, the acting secretary of the US Air Force, and James MacStravic, who is performing the duties of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics.
In addition to reiterating a desire that ULA continue to fly a second rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, the letter urges the Pentagon officials to be skeptical about the BE-4 engine.
“The United States Government (USG) must have a hands-on, decision-making role … in any decision made by United Launch Alliance to down-select engines on its proposed Vulcan space launch system, especially where one of the technologies is unproven at the required size and power,” the letter states. “If ULA plans on requesting hundreds of millions of dollars from the USG for development of its launch vehicle and associated infrastructure, then it is not only appropriate but required that the USG have a significant role in the decision-making concerning the vehicle.” The letter then goes on to say the Air Force should not give any additional funding to ULA, other than for current launch vehicles, until the company provides “full access, oversight of, and approval rights over decision-making” in its choice of contractors for the engines on Vulcan.
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