Long before he was conjuring up ways to sell us everything from a basketball hoop to tiny parts to fix our ceiling fans, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was a space nut.
Tuesday morning at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Spaceport, Bezos’ space technology company Blue Origin announced plans to set up shop on the historic Space Coast, where missions like Mariner first infected a young Bezos with the space bug decades ago.
Bezos told a small crowd of press and dignitaries at Cape Canaveral that Blue Origin will be taking over the launch site at Complex 36, where 145 launches including the Mariner missions, Pioneer 10 and Surveyor 1 lifted off over the decades.
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“The site saw its last launch in 2005 and the pad has stood silent for more than 10 years — too long. We can’t wait to fix that,” Bezos said, adding that Blue Origin will also open a rocket production center at the Spaceport to streamline the process from manufacture to launch.
With true Amazonian efficiency, Bezos made the announcement in a brief five-paragraph speech before surrendering the microphone to local politicians who droned on about economic development for the next 40 minutes.
Even before Amazon had its first profitable year, Bezos was throwing money into Blue Origin as far back as its founding in 2000. Since then, Blue Origin has been developing rocket engines and capsules for both orbital and suborbital flight. It’s currently taking reservations for space tourists.
The company hasn’t garnered as much mainstream attention as Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s SpaceX, perhaps because we’ve been too busy focusing more on Amazon’s drone efforts, or Bezos’ successful but unrelated effort to recover an old Apollo 11 rocket from the Atlantic (OK, OK, Jeff, your space nut bona fides are confirmed, we get it).
To the casual observer, it looks as though Bezos and Blue Origin are positioned to give Musk and SpaceX a big run for their money following this news, the explosion earlier this year of a SpaceX rocket bound for the International Space Station and Blue Origin’s partnership with United Launch Alliance (itself a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin) to supply the engine for ULA’s first super-powerful, reusable Vulcan rocket.
At the end of the press event, Bezos again took the mic to reveal a preview glamour shot of Blue Origin’s orbital vehicle that will use the company’s BE-4 engine, which is currently being designed, to carry people and cargo into space, likely for larger-scale industrial, defense or NASA missions. Its “little brother,” the BE-3, was successfully used to test launch the company’s “New Shepard” suborbital spacecraft in April.
“One day — I don’t know how long this will take — but one day I look forward to having a press conference in space,” Bezos told the crowd in closing.