Blue Origin LLC, the space-transportation company run by Jeff Bezos, has won a contract to provide engines for a potential rival’s next-generation rocket, according to people familiar with the matter, vaulting Amazon AMZN, +0.02% founder Bezos into the lucrative market for Pentagon satellite launches.
United Launch Alliance LLC—a joint venture between Boeing Co. BA, -0.60% and Lockheed Martin Corp. LMT, -0.19% that launches U.S. military and spy satellites into orbit—is set to announce Thursday it has picked Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for its Vulcan rocket, these people said. United Launch declined to comment.
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The long-term, potentially multibillion-dollar agreement could provide a boost to Blue Origin’s eventual goal of becoming a major military launch provider itself. The company plans to use the same engines to power its own heavy-lift launcher, called New Glenn, which is currently under development.
The Vulcan rocket’s maiden flight is slated for 2020, but many industry experts expect that deadline to be extended; regular operations could start before the middle of the next decade. Even if everything goes smoothly, testing and final certification of the New Glenn booster is also expected to take roughly that long.
The Blue Origin engines have strategic importance for the Pentagon because they are intended to end the use of Russian-built RD-180 engines, which now provide primary propulsion on United Launch’s workhorse Atlas V rockets.
An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.
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