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United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp, said it would invest heavily in a new rocket engine being developed by Blue Origin, Reuters reported. The new engine, called the BE-4, could be ready for use in four years, and would offer substantial cost savings over the Russian-built RD-180 engine now used to power ULA's heavy-lift Atlas 5 rockets, officials from both companies told reporters.The new engine is to undergo full-scale testing in 2016 and is to be used for a rocket launch in 2019. ULA and Blue Origin will use the BE-4 engine in their next-generation launch vehicles, according to ULA. Work on the liquid oxygen, liquefied natural-gas engine has been under way for three years in Kent and in West Texas, and four more years of development are expected before first flight.
The discussions in the United States on the need to create own US rocket engine intensified this May after Moscow made statements that Russia might stop the supplies of its RD-180 engine to American companies, if the Pentagon continued its use for orbiting spy satellites. ULA has a many-year and multibillion contract with the US Department of Defence on launches of such spacecraft.