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Engine for new ULA rocket to be built in Alabama

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — An engine for a new United Launch Alliance orbital rocket will be built in north Alabama.

The company said Thursday it has selected Blue Origin’s BE-4 advanced booster engine to power its Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Founded by Amazon chairman Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin plans to construct the engine at a plant announced last year for Huntsville.

United Launch Alliance already manufactures Atlas V and Delta IV rockets at a factory in Decatur. It says the Blue Origin engine will be used in the booster stage of the new launch vehicle, which is on track for an initial flight in 2020.

Sen. Richard Shelby, who chairs the powerful Appropriations Committee in the U.S. Senate, expressed excitement over the announcement.

“This is outstanding news,” Shelby said.  “With Blue Origin’s first stage engine work in Huntsville, along with ULA’s manufacturing, assembly, and integration in Decatur, most of the Vulcan rocket will be made in Alabama.  It is long past time that we build an exclusively American-made rocket, providing our nation with assured access to space.

“This is a true testament to North Alabama’s world-class workforce and long history of supporting our nation’s space and defense.  I am proud to represent a region that continues to attract such powerful companies.  I welcome Blue Origin to Alabama and look forward to the groundbreaking of its new facility in Cummings Research Park.”

Gov. Kay Ivey welcomed the news as well and said the announcement speaks to the strength of Alabama’s “growing aerospace industry.”

“Alabama has a rich history in aerospace and titans of innovation continue to choose Alabama as the place to develop new technology and develop 21st century engines for future space utilization. I am excited about our new partnership with Blue Origin and their commitment to our state,” Ivey said.

Blue Origin has said the Huntsville factory will employ about 350 people.

The Huntsville Chamber of Commerce says the company plans to break ground soon.

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