Jeff Bezos’ plans for space go far beyond the short trip he is scheduled to take there on Tuesday.
The Amazon.com INC.
The founder has invested billions in his space company Blue Origin LLC for more than two decades, believing that humanity must ultimately establish outposts throughout the solar system.
More immediately, Bezos’s company is seeking business in a space market that will triple in size to more than $ 1 trillion in annual sales by 2040, Morgan Stanley says, assuming that rapid technological developments allow for routine moon landings, asteroid mining and spacial tourism.
Its own big leap comes when Blue Origin is scheduled to launch Bezos and three other people to the edge of space in an 11-minute flight, the first passenger launch 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 broader challenge is winning the kind of large government contracts that provide a steady stream of revenue and lend credibility to the companies that insure them. Space Exploration Technologies Corp., SpaceX’s formal name for Elon Musk, has been ahead of Blue Origin in winning those deals.
For years, Blue Origin has been building operations and developing a portfolio of rockets, engines and vehicles. That drive has been encouraged by what Bezos has described as his passion for space. He has cited the Apollo 11 moon landing mission as a pivotal moment for him and has referenced science fiction writers such as Arthur C. Clarke and scientist and author Carl Sagan in speeches.
“If we are in the solar system, we can have a billion humans in the solar system, which means we would have a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins. This would be an incredible civilization, ”Bezos said during a speech two years ago. To that end, Blue Origin can reduce the cost of space launches, in part by developing reusable rockets, Bezos said.
The Amazon founder’s talk has been combined with significant financial commitments. Bezos has revealed that he has sold $ 1 billion in Amazon stock annually to fund Blue Origin.
After founding Blue Origin in 2000, Bezos began acquiring hundreds of thousands of acres of land in West Texas for the company in the early 2000s, telling an area newspaper in 2005 that he wanted to build an oil rig. rocket launch on the property.
Now, in addition to the Texas launch site, the company has facilities in Florida, California, Alabama, and Washington, DC, as well as headquarters outside of Seattle. It employs more than 3,500 people, including CEO Bob Smith, a former Honeywell International executive. From Inc.
aerospace unit. Privately owned Blue Origin does not publish financial statements.
Bezos is “doing what he did with Amazon, which is investing every penny he can get in capital goods and innovation,” said Howard McCurdy, an American University professor who has written on space and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. . .
This year, Blue Origin intends to conduct two additional flights with passengers on the New Shepard after Tuesday’s launch, executives said in a briefing on Sunday. Mr. Smith did not specify how much the company is selling tickets for.
“The willingness to pay is still quite high. Our first flights have a very good price, ”he said.
Outside of the emerging space tourism market, SpaceX has gained a stronger foundation with space-related agencies in Washington. NASA and the Pentagon have spent $ 2.8 billion tied to 52 top contracts won by the Musk-led company over the past 14 federal fiscal years, according to a federal spending database. They have 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 work with government agencies. Mr. Smith has said in the past that the company wants to work with these clients.
The two companies are discussing an agreement to build a lunar lander for a planned 2024 trip. The Apollo 11 lunar lander reached the moon in 1969 on July 20, the same date for Bezos’s scheduled space trip on July 20. Tuesday. NASA awarded SpaceX the lander contract in April, but Blue Origin protested that decision with the US Government Accountability Office, a move that could lead to NASA re-tendering the contract.
The accountability agency is expected to issue a decision on the Blue Origin case before August 4. The Dynetics unit of Leidos Holdings INC.
he also competed for the lander and filed a protest.
SpaceX is now the most prolific launcher, having sent 23 rockets so far this year, according to data from the Federal Aviation Administration covering licensed launches. Its reusable rockets help reduce the cost of reaching space, a strategy also followed by Blue Origin, which has completed nine such launches since late 2017.
“They need to have a track record,” said Marco Cáceres, a space analyst at aerospace consultancy Teal Group, referring to Blue Origin.
The New Shepard rocket scheduled to launch Tuesday has been designed for tourist trips into suborbital space, with a six-person gum-shaped capsule and windows extending 3.5 feet by 2.3 feet along its sides. Along with the founder of Amazon, the passengers on the ship are Mark Bezos, Bezos’s brother; Wally Funk, an 82-year-old pilot who graduated from a program for female astronauts in the 1960s; and Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old Dutch student, the company’s first paying customer.
The company has also been developing the New Glenn rocket, a vehicle that will stand 321 feet tall and is designed to use seven main engines to lift large payloads into orbit. In February, Blue Origin said it had made progress on various hardware components for the rocket and was targeting a maiden flight for New Glenn towards the end of next year.
Blue Origin has reached agreements to promote its technology in 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 now in use, is overdue. Last week, NASA said Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies, a Seattle 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 George Washington University Institute for Space Policy.
Write to Micah Maidenberg in [email protected] and Doug Cameron in [email protected]
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