Bezos’ Blue Origin to Start Space Tours in 2018
By Rakesh Sharma
Humans could be making trips to space as early as 2018, according to Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos. Bezos’ space company Blue Origin became the first company to successfully to land a rocket after a suborbital flight last year. He said that it would be possible for tourists to experience a few minutes of weightlessness in space by 2018, depending on how testing goes, according to The New York Times. (See “Why Silicon Valley Startups are Interested in Space.”
This was the first time that fifth-richest man in the world, who built a fortune through retail ecommerce, provided a glimpse of his space ambitions. Ten reporters were granted access to the highly-secretive venture in Kent, Washington. The result has been lengthy features in major general interest and technology publications.
Blue Origin has mostly flown under the radar, as compared to Amazon, Bezos’ other high-profile venture. It was started in 2000 and consisted of a dozen employees attempting to figure out alternate means (other than rockets) of flying into space. After concluding that this was not possible, they began developing rockets in 2005. Since then, the company’s headcount has increased to 600. Within the next year, the company intends to increase that number to 1,000 and, later, 1,200. Blue Origin’s company’s logo consists of two tortoises (signifying a methodical approach) holding up the front end of a rocket and a winged hourglass (representing the fleeting nature of time). Its motto is Gradatim Ferociter, which means step by step, courageously.
The company’s facility in Kent was acquired from Boeing Co. (BA) and is 300,000 square feet big.The office (and, one would presume, the administrative center) is an homage to Bezos’ love for science fiction and space travel. It features a Jules Verne spaceship in the atrium and an assortment of memorabilia, such as a life-size version of the Battlestar Galactica to an Apollo training suit. The factory attached to this building is “where the magic happens,” according to Bezos.
An article in Ars Technica reports that the four largest machines in this facility are “individually the size of a small house” and cost $1 million each. This was where the Blue Engine-3, which powered the New Shepard launch, was developed. The Blue Engine-4 or BE-4 is the focus of this factory currently and Blue Origin is in a race against another company, Aerojet Rocketdyne, to supply these engines for Vulcan, which is used to deliver US national security payloads.
The articles also devote a substantial number of words to Bezos’ vision for Blue Origin. “This is about millions of people living and working in space,” he said. “Humanity’s record after 50 years of space travel is 13 humans in space at the same time. As you can see, we have a long way to go. But you want to set things up so you can explore the whole Solar System, and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”
There is also the energy imperative driving his vision. “We’ll be using all of the solar energy that impacts the Earth (in a few years),” he mentions in the New York Times article. “That’s an actual limit.” This, according to him, is reason for a “great inversion” to occur. Thus, instead of rockets venturing out into space using materials made on earth, the opposite will happen. Our manufacturing needs will be met by centers located outside earth and our planet “would be zoned for residential and light industrial use, allowing much of Earth to return to a more natural state.” “It’ll be universities and houses and so on,” he said.
The Bottom Line
Jeff Bezos is a pioneer in more ways than one. After disrupting the retail industry, he has set his sights on disrupting space travel by cutting down expenses related to it and clearing the way for humanity’s migration and expansion beyond the earth.