Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin aims for bigger space goals

Jeff Bezos’ plans for space go well beyond his short trip there on Tuesday.

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founder has poured billions into his space company Blue Origin LLC over more than two decades, believing that humanity must eventually establish outposts across the solar system.

More immediately, Mr. Bezos’ company is looking for business in a space market that will triple to more than $ 1 trillion in annual sales by 2040, Morgan Stanley said, assuming rapid technological developments allow them Routine moon landings, asteroid mining and space tourism.

Interior of the Blue Origin crew capsule. The company has spent years developing rockets, engines and vehicles.


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Blue Origin

Its own giant leap comes on July 20, when Blue Origin is set to launch Mr. Bezos and three other people to the edge of space on an 11-minute flight, the first launch with passengers on the company’s New Shepard rocket.

A successful trip could provide traction in an emerging space tourism market, which includes Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc.

Blue Origin’s larger challenge is to win the kind of big government contracts that provide a steady stream of revenue and give credibility to the companies that get them. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the official name for SpaceX by Elon Musk, edged out Blue Origin by winning these deals.

For years, Blue Origin has been developing operations and developing a portfolio of rockets, engines and vehicles. This push was fueled by what Mr. Bezos described as his passion for space. He cited the Apollo 11 moon landing mission as a pivotal moment for him and referred to science fiction writers like Arthur C. Clarke and scientist and author Carl Sagan in speeches.

A New Shepard rocket launch.


Photo:

Blue Origin

“If we are in the solar system, we can have a trillion humans in the solar system, which means we would have a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins. It would be an incredible civilization, ”Bezos said in a speech two years ago. To that end, Blue Origin can lower the cost of space launches, in part by developing reusable rockets, Bezos said.

The speech by the founder of Amazon was associated with significant financial commitments. Mr Bezos revealed that he sold $ 1 billion of Amazon stock each year to fund Blue Origin.

After founding Blue Origin in 2000, Mr. Bezos began acquiring hundreds of thousands of acres of land in West Texas for the company earlier this decade, telling a local newspaper in 2005 that ‘he wanted to build a rocket launch pad on the property.

Now, in addition to the launch site in Texas, the company has facilities in Florida, California, Alabama and Washington, DC, as well as a corporate headquarters outside of Seattle. It employs over 3,500 people, including Managing Director Bob Smith, a former executive at Honeywell International. Inc.

aerospace unit. The private company Blue Origin does not publish financial statements.

Mr. Bezos “is doing what he did with Amazon, which is to invest every penny he could invest in capital goods and innovation,” said Howard McCurdy, professor at the American University who wrote on space and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Richard Branson successfully traveled to the edge of space on Sunday, and Jeff Bezos is not far behind. But the spaceships, flight logistics and altitudes of the two billionaire founders have some differences. Photographic illustration: Laura Kammermann

But SpaceX has gained a deeper footing with space-related agencies in Washington. NASA and the Pentagon have spent $ 2.8 billion related to 52 major contracts won by the company run by Mr. Musk over the past 14 federal years, according to a federal spending database. They spent $ 496.5 million on 33 contracts won by Blue Origin during that period.

Blue Origin did not respond to questions about competition with SpaceX or its plans to collaborate with government agencies. Mr. Smith has said in the past that the company is interested in working with such clients.

The two companies are vying for a deal to build a lunar lander for a trip scheduled for 2024. The Apollo 11 moon lander reached the moon in 1969 on July 20, the same date as Mr. Bezos’ planned space trip on Tuesday. NASA awarded SpaceX the lander contract in April, but Blue Origin has protested the move to the US Government Accountability Office, a move that could cause NASA to increase the contract.

The accountability agency is expected to render a decision on the Blue Origin case by August 4. Leidos Holdings’ Dynetics unit Inc.

also competed for the lander and filed a protest.

SpaceX is now the most prolific launcher, sending 23 rockets so far this year, according to Federal Aviation Administration data covering licensed launches. Its reusable rockets help reduce the cost of access to space, a strategy also pursued by Blue Origin, which has carried out nine of these launches since the end of 2017.

“They have to have a background,” said Marco Cáceres, space analyst at aerospace consultancy firm Teal Group, referring to Blue Origin.

The New Shepard rocket set to go up on Tuesday was designed for tourist travel in suborbital space, with a six-person gumball-shaped capsule and windows spanning 3.5 feet by 2.3 feet on the along its sides. Along with the founder of Amazon, the passengers of the craft are Mark Bezos, Mr. Bezos’ brother; Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pilot who graduated from a women astronaut program in the 1960s; and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch student, the company’s first paying customer.

The company has also developed the New Glenn rocket, a vehicle that will be 321 feet tall and is designed to use seven main engines to lift large payloads into orbit. In February, Blue Origin said it made progress on several of the rocket’s hardware components and is aiming for a maiden flight for New Glenn towards the end of next year.

Blue Origin has made deals to push its technology into the space market. The company is developing a new rocket engine for the United Launch Alliance, which launches satellites for the Pentagon and US spy agencies. The engine, which will replace the Russian-made engines currently in use, is overdue. Last week, NASA announced that Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies, a Seattle-based company, would join Blue Origin, General Electric. Co.

and other companies to design concepts for nuclear propulsion systems that could propel vehicles into deep space.

Blue Origin’s’ aspirations are to become a company like SpaceX, like Boeing,

as Lockheed Martin,

“said John Logsdon, former director of the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

Write to Micah Maidenberg at [email protected] and Doug Cameron at [email protected]

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