For nearly two decades of its existence, Blue Origin was like Willy Wonka’s chocolate studio in Roald Dahl’s children’s book.
It’s a rocket company founded by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the billionaire who created Amazon. That is well known. What the company is really doing is hidden in a mystery.
“But everyone wants to participate,” laughs Carissa Christensen, founder and chief executive officer of Bryce Space and Technology, an aerospace consulting firm.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bezos announced that he would step down as chief executive officer of Amazon this summer and become executive chairman. In his letter to Amazon employees, he said he wanted to spend time and energy on other passions and listed Blue Origin among them.
The coming years of Blue Origin promise to be busy – taking tourists on short orbit flights, launching satellites on a new rocket, developing a lunar lander for NASA.
Does that mean Mr. Bezos will have a bigger day-to-day role at his rocket company?
“If Jeff chooses to spend more time at Blue Origin in the next phase of his career, that would be a very good thing for Blue,” said Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin from 2003 to 2017. “He brings great intelligence. excellent, operational expertise and a great passion for the business. “
Mr Meyerson notes that Bezos’ other joint ventures include the Bezos Earth Foundation, which last year donated $ 100 million to the Environmental Defense Fund to build and operate a satellite that detects methane. Amazon, where Mr Bezos will continue to be involved, is developing Project Kuiper, a satellite constellation for transmitting internet services to Earth.
“It is clear that space will be a prominent theme,” said Meyerson.
Mr. Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 – two years before Elon Musk founded the Space Discovery Technology Company, also known as SpaceX.
But while Musk and SpaceX have built a thriving business – launching satellites and NASA astronauts into orbit and developing a giant rocket called the Starship that aims to send humans to Mars. One day – Blue Origin appears to be falling behind.
During its early days, companies only made occasional small news. The reporters will call Blue Origin’s public relations firm to receive a “decline to comment” message from the company.
In November 2006, a teardrop-shaped test plane successfully flew into the air at a modest 285 feet and then gently returned to the ground at a test site in West Texas. Mr. Bezos successfully reported in a blog post on the Blue Origin website – a month and a half later.
There were no other updates for 4 and a half years until Mr. Bezos admitted that a test car crashed, but only after The Wall Street Journal reported the incident.
Over the years, Blue Origin has become less secretive. Five years ago, Mr. Bezos welcomed a group of reporters for a tour of the company’s headquarters in Kent, Wash., A few miles south of Seattle. During lunch, he happily answered questions. “It was my total pleasure,” he later said. “I hope you can feel that I like this.”
Since then, Blue Origin has grown rapidly. It has a contract with NASA to develop a lander that can send astronauts to the surface of the moon in a few years. It sells rocket engines to another rocket company, the United Launch Alliance. It charges customers to fly scientific experiments on the New Shepard, an orbital spacecraft.
But so far they are still modest in scope. Blue Origin has yet to start sales for New Shepard’s main business – taking tourists on short trips to the edge of space – or even having people on any test flights to date.
New Glenn, a larger rocket that will compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 horse, won’t take off on its maiden flight until at least later this year.
Laura Seward Forczyk, owner of Astralytical, a space consulting firm, said: “They have big plans, but they haven’t really put any humans on their ships yet.
Mr. Musk and Mr. Bezos periodically discussed their rockets and whether humans should aim for Mars – Musk’s final destination – or build free-floating colonies as Mr Bezos envisioned. .
In an interview with Maureen Dowd last year, Musk gave winged compliments to Mr Bezos and Blue Origin: “The pace of progress is too slow and the number of years he has left isn’t enough, but I’m still happy. for him. is doing what he’s doing with Blue Origin. “
That doesn’t necessarily mean that Blue Origin is far behind.
During a tour with reporters in 2016, Mr. Bezos pointed to an image in the central area of the headquarters. It shows two turtles holding an hourglass and looking up into space. Here is the slogan of Blue Origin: Gradatim ferociter, which in Latin means “step by step, ferocious”.
Blue Origin can hope to become the fable tortoise, where slow and steady will ultimately outnumber the speed rabbit. Bezos’ wealth – he sold billions of dollars in Amazon stock to finance Blue Origin – allowed Blue Origin to execute a well-crafted, long-term plan without generating a lot of revenue in the short term. term.
Mr. Bezos spoke in more detail about a future where millions of people live and work in space. Blue Origin’s aim, he said, is to help people get there.
“We’ll build a road to space,” said Mr Bezos in a presentation in 2019 when he announced the design for the lunar lander. “And then miracles happen.”
Blue Origin currently has a rocket engine factory in Huntsville, Ala., And giant facilities just outside NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to assemble New Glenn missiles.
In 2016, Mr. Bezos said he spent one day a week at Blue Origin. Although he majored in electrical engineering and computer science at Princeton when he was a university, Mr. Bezos let his engineers talk about the technical aspects of the Blue Origin spacecraft to reporters.
In contrast, Musk, as chief engineer, is deeply involved in technical details at SpaceX, although Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief executive officer, handles the majority of everyday details. company.
Thus, as Blue Origin shifts from research and development to pursuing revenue and profitability, now could be the ideal time to bring business success to Amazon.
“He’s a business that knows how to make money,” said Christensen. “Maybe this is a too tempting time for him to stay away.”
“Amazon is not like any other company before it,” she added. If Jeff Bezos really wanted to spend more time with Blue, I wonder if it would become like there was no other launch company before it. “