Blue Origin: Time for Liftoff?
When you become wildly successful in your day job, you're provided the opportunity to play around a bit and pursue other passions. Jeff Bezos, who hasn't done so bad as the founder of Amazon, is doing just that with his spaceflight services company Blue Origin.
There's a Starman waiting in Seattle
Bezos showed an interest in space since he was a child. He once said "I used a large portion of my elementary school free-time hours not only watching 'Star Trek' — the original, of course — but also playing 'Star Trek'" on the computer." After he was named his high school class valedictorian, he was interviewed by the Miami Herald and said he wanted to build "space hotels, amusement parks and colonies for 2 million or 3 million people who would be in orbit."
Bezos formed Blue Origin just south of Seattle in 2000 so he could do exactly what he dreamt of as a kid. The existence of the company didn't become known until 2003 when Bezos began buying land in Texas under various interestingly-named shell companies. Coincidentally, this is the same method Walt Disney used to discretely acquire the land required to build Walt Disney World back in the 1960s.
Commercial Space Travel - It's gonna be a long long time.
Blue Origin is working on technologies that will enable ordinary people to fly to space. Bezos said in 2016 "Our mission is to try and put in place some of that heavy lifting infrastructure: Make access to space at much lower cost so that thousands of entrepreneurs can do amazing and interesting things, and take us into the next era."
The company has gone about accomplishing its mission in baby steps, which when you're trying to send people to space is probably a good idea. Blue Origin's motto, Gradatim Ferociter, is Latin for "Step by Step, Ferociously."
True to Blue Origin's step by step motto, the first flight test vehicle launched 316 feet in the air in 2005 before safely returning to earth. The following year, Blue Origin launched its first rocket-powered test flight.
By 2015, Blue Origin had launched a rocket 307,000 feet into the atmosphere as well as achieved the company's first sub-orbital spaceflight. In 2018, Blue Origin launched a commercial cargo payload and was the first flight to be licensed by the FAA with a standard commercial launch license instead of an experimental permit. Most recently, last month, Blue Origin completed a successful sub-orbital flight and landing, marking the company’s 12th overall flight.
Bought a spaceship, now I'm a space cadet
Bezos has been self-funding Blue Origin to the tune of $1 billion per year via sales of Amazon stock. The company has grown to employ approximately 2,500 people who share his vision of making spaceflight accessible. Blue Origin is also receiving funds from the United States government. Between 2019 and 2024, Blue Origin could receive $500 million from the U.S. Air Force if they are a finalist in the Launch Services Agreement competition. So far, Blue Origin has received at least $181 million through this arrangement.
While Bezos has essentially an unlimited amount of money to make his childhood dreams come true, it would be unwise to bet against the man who made Amazon one of the most dominant companies in the world. After all, he views Blue Origin as the most significant thing he’s doing, more than Amazon.