Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans Alabama rocket engine plant

Jeff Bezos Blue Origin
Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos at the company's Texas launch facility. [Photo Credit: Blue Origin]

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos‘ private spaceflight company, Blue Origin, is planning to build a new rocket engine in Huntsville, Ala. the company and state officials announced Monday.

The new “Rocket City” facility will be in Cummings Research Park, the nation’s second-largest research park, and construction can begin pending an engine production contract with United Launch Alliance (UAL).

Blue Origin President Robert Meyerson clarified, explaining his company is seeking the UAL contract, a private company that provides satellite launches for the U.S. government and others. He said the company will locate a production factory for the BE-4 rocket engine in Huntsville upon a contract being signed.

“Alabama is a proven leader in aerospace manufacturing with the highest-skilled workforce, business climate and leadership that we need to produce low-cost rocket engines that we need to protect the nation, (and) explore the universe,” Meyerson said at a news conference in Huntsville. “Alabama is a great state for aerospace manufacturing and we are proud to produce America’s next rocket engine right here in Rocket City.”

The BE-4 is America’s next rocket engine and, if selected, will power UAL’s Vulcan rocket. The production of this engine would end the nation’s dependence on Russia for access to space for critical national security space systems.

Should the facility come to Huntsville, it will mean jobs up to 342 people along with approximately $200 million in capital investment in the state.

“We are excited to welcome Blue Origin to Alabama. I must commend founder Jeff Bezos and company President Robert Meyerson for their vision to create this innovative company, and for choosing to make Alabama its home sweet home!,” said Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. “Because of this investment, more Alabamians can provide a better living for their families, and it helps cement Alabama as the preferred destination for the aerospace industry.”

Many economic development partners contributed to the effort to successfully recruit Blue Origin to the state. These partners include the Governor’s office, the Alabama Department of Commerce, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the City of Huntsville, Madison County, and the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.

“Blue Origin’s decision to locate its BE-4 engine manufacturing center in Huntsville reflects the deep and longstanding capabilities in the city that became the cradle of the nation’s rocket program,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce. “Huntsville is a hub of innovation in every facet of aerospace, making it the perfect home for this Blue Origin facility.”​

Blue Origin chose Huntsville for this project because of the high-tech aerospace manufacturing workforce and ecosystem, including NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, nearly 300 private aerospace and defense contractors, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville, number 14th in NASA research funding in the nation.

“This announcement today is excellent news for our state. I am pleased to see Blue Origin investing in Alabama, and I look forward to working with them and other businesses to continue boosting economic development opportunities,” commended U.S. Senator Richard Shelby.

The announcement took place at the historic Davidson Center for Space Exploration under the Saturn V rocket, a nod to the community’s aerospace heritage. Blue Origin builds on that aerospace heritage and positions the Huntsville/Madison County community in the commercial space industry.

“Huntsville is proud to be the nation’s propulsion center of excellence, and we couldn’t ask for a better partner than Blue Origin to join our team. When you look at NASA’s visionary work at the Marshall Space Flight Center, the talent and capacity of Huntsville’s space industry partners, and our expertise in research and development, engineering, and manufacturing, Blue Origin is joining a truly remarkable environment,” said Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle.

“Today’s announcement ensures that our community will continue to be at the center of the world’s rocket propulsion development. Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin will build on the legacy of the German rocket team and the Marshall Space Flight Center to power the growing commercial rocket business that will be a critical part of our nation’s future space program,” stated Madison County Commission Chairman Dale W. Strong.

In support of Blue Origin, the City of Huntsville, City of Madison, and Madison County have provided funding for their three school systems to launch an experiment on a Blue Origin rocket in Summer 2018. The school systems will determine how to select teams, and then they will work with the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber and Dream Up, an organization that supports space-based learning, to design and develop their payload.

“Blue Origin reinforces our regions’ place as the Rocket City, and a center of excellence for rocket propulsion. Blue Origin’s presence will have a positive impact on our State, our region and our community,” said Chip Cherry, President and CEO of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber. “This is an important development for Cummings Research Park’s next era of expansion and we look forward to a long and productive relationship with Blue Origin.”