As quickly as Jeff Bezos steps down from Amazon, he can focus his energies on the blue origin

When it comes to the private aerospace industry (aka NewSpace), some names stand out from the rest. The most obvious of these is SpaceX (the brainchild of Elon Musk and the leading source of commercial innovation) and the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin. But what about Blue Origin, the private aerospace company that Jeff Bezos founded in 2000?

Over the past few years, Blue Origin has fallen behind the competition, missing out on multi-billion dollar contracts. However, with Bezos stepping down as CEO of Amazon, industry sources have indicated that this could soon change (according to Reuters’ Eric M. Johnson). With all the opportunities that exist for commercial space, Bezos is now able to take on a more practical role as the company faces an extremely crucial year.

Bezos’ decision to step down as CEO of Amazon, the global e-commerce powerhouse he founded over 27 years ago, was announced earlier this month. As Bezos has indicated, he will take on the role of Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors of Amazon through the third fiscal quarter of the year (between July and September) while Andy Jassy – Founder and CEO of Amazon Web Services (AWS) – will take the role of Chairman of the board will take over as CEO.

The New Shepard reusable rocket is Blue Origin’s flagship. Photo credit: Blue Origin

The former CEO shared his reasons in an email to Amazon employees posted on Tuesday, February 2nd:

“Being the CEO of Amazon is a deep responsibility and it costs a lot. When you have such a responsibility, it is difficult to draw attention to anything else. As Executive Chair, I will continue to be involved in major Amazon initiatives, but I also have the time and energy I need to focus on the Day 1 Fund, the Bezos Earth Fund. Blue origin, The Washington Post and my other passions. “

According to industry sources, Bezos’ decision will be a boon to Blue Origin, which has struggled to keep up with the competition in recent years. In the past two years, the company has not been able to close a National Security Space Launch (NSSL) procurement agreement that caused the US Space Force to officially end its technology partnership with Blue Origin on December 31, 2020.

While the company has some deals and investments in hand, most of the funding has come from Bezos himself since 2016. He has been selling around $ 1 billion in Amazon stock every year since 2017 to keep Blue Origin financially alive. Additionally, Blue Origin’s spacecraft and reusable systems have been slow to evolve in recent years.

The New Shepard suborbital launch vehicle, for example, completed its first flight test on January 14, 2021, almost ten years after an initial attempt (which was partially successful). The New Glenn rocket, a two-stage launcher, began development in 2012 and was publicly announced in 2016. However, progress on this missile has also been limited, and its first flight test is tentatively slated for a little later this year.

However, some progress has been made in recent years. In April 2020, NASA announced that Blue Origin is one of three companies competing to develop a Human Landing System (HLS) for the Artemis project. SpaceX and Dynetics also secured spots in the competition, and all three are making proposals for a reusable lander system that can be used to bring astronauts to the lunar surface (either from the Orion spacecraft or the Lunar Gateway).

Given the scope of Artemis, which will involve regular trips to the lunar surface and the creation of a base camp on the surface, this competition could potentially mean billions of dollars worth of contracts for the foreseeable future. According to industry sources, Bezos and other Blue Origin executives are therefore focused on partnering with NASA to secure the lunar landing contract and carry out its development.

The competition is expected to get more intense this year as NASA will limit the lunar landing competitions to two concepts. Right now, Blue Origin is tasked with reducing the size and weight of its lander to fit on the available commercial launch vehicles – including ULA’s SpaceX Falcon Heavy and Vulcan Centaur. Blue Origin also hopes to have its New Glenn rocket ready in time for them to provide launch services themselves.

According to another industry source, Blue Origin reportedly changed its design since last April and is ready to meet its contractual specifications. Still, there is still a lot of work to be done to get Blue Origin to a point where it is profitable and can compete with other hits in the NewSpace industry (SpaceX in particular).

Blue Origin’s concept for a lunar lander (Blue Moon). Photo credit: Blue Origin

These include technical and production-related challenges, problems with procurement, bureaucratic processes, high overhead costs and engineering revenues that arose during the company’s transition from development to production. Given the lofty ambitions with which it was founded, it’s understandable why Bezos would want to pay more attention to Blue Origin.

Blue Origin was founded in 2000 and now has 3,500 employees and manufacturing and launch facilities in Texas, Florida, and Alabama. Since then, the programs have been expanded to include heavy-duty launch services for trading partners, suborbital tourist flights and the crew-enabled lunar lander Blue Moon, the variant of which is the company’s HLS concept. Unfortunately, none of these are ready for commercial use.

Meanwhile, SpaceX (which Musk founded in 2002) has achieved its goals of developing reusable rockets for commercial use with the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. The launchers and crew capsules (the Crew Dragon) used for NASA’s Demo 2 and Crew 1 missions were also provided. These two missions restored domestic launch capabilities on US soil for the first time since retiring from the space shuttle program in 2011.

SpaceX is also advancing the development of the spaceship and the super-heavy, a fully reusable launch system that can transport up to 100 tons (110 US tons) to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and deploy crew members and cargo missions to the moon and Mars regularly. So far, two three-engine prototypes of the spaceship (SN8 and SN9) have conducted high-altitude flight tests, and development of the super heavy booster is progressing rapidly.

Artist’s impression of a spaceship taking off from a moon base. Image Credit: SpaceX

Other projects that Bezos has spoken about publicly are the Kuiper project, a constellation of 3,200 satellites that enable global broadband internet access. Amazon hasn’t launched any satellites yet, but it hopes to have half of its constellation (1,600 satellites) in orbit by 2026. This constellation will be one of the main competitors of Starlink, which has launched 1,145 satellites to date and is adding 60 batches per launch.

Over the years, Bezos and Musk have teamed up more than once, especially where “first thought” issues arose. Both men started private aerospace companies with the dream of making space travel more accessible. Both have shown interest in making early sea landings and both hope to break into the burgeoning space tourism industry.

And the less talk is about which of them is richer, the better! (It’s Bezos again!) But competition is always healthy when it comes to innovation and space exploration. Just look at what came out of the space race, where the U.S. and the Soviets spurred each other on to do amazing feats that changed the course of history. Fortunately, this competition does not include nuclear weapons or mutually assured destruction!

Further reading: Reuters

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