United Launch Alliance’s future rocket Vulcan Centaur is undergoing pathfinder tests at Cape Canaveral. Credit: ULA

WASHINGTON — Blue Origin is performing “final testing” of the BE-4 engines that will boost United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, ULA’s CEO Tory Bruno said Dec. 3.

“We’re in the end game now,” Bruno told CNBC in an interview.

Blue Origin’s continued delays in BE-4 engine development and production set off an industry guessing game on when ULA would finally receive the two engines it needs for the inaugural flight of its Vulcan rocket. 

Bruno had previously said he expected the engines in late 2021 but on Friday he confirmed the BE-4s will not arrive until early 2022. 

“I was hoping to get those engines for Christmas. I had giant stockings at home waiting for them,” Bruno quipped in the CNBC interview. 

“I’ll say it’s taking them a little longer to fabricate my production engines. They’re in the factory now being built at Blue Origin,” said Bruno. 

“The COVID epidemic has affected them and their supply chain and it’s just taking a little bit longer, but they’re doing very, very well,” he added. “There’s been no problems with them and in fact, we’re doing the final testing, or what we call certification testing. And that is just going really, really well.”

Bruno has said in recent years that the engine delays have been frustrating but on Friday he put a positive spin on it. “This is the hardest and most exciting part of any rocket development program. It is being paced by those brand new engines, their new technology and new fuel.”

The first two engines will be used for Vulcan’s first launch some time in 2022, said Bruno. He said Vulcan will fly two missions before the year ends.

Vulcan’s schedule has been an issue of concern in the National Security Space Launch program as the vehicle is slated to replace ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket that DoD cannot continue to buy beyond 2022 because it uses the Russian-built RD-180 engines.

Vulcan has to complete two successful launches before it can be certified for NSSL missions. ULA said it plans to get Vulcan certified by 2023.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...