Like Willy Wonka in space: Amazon boss and space entrepreneur Jeff Bezos. Photo: Blue Origin The New Shepard crew capsule. The reusable New Shepard spacecraft, which launched to the outskirts of space in November, will launch again soon. Photo: Blue Origin
Blue Origin engineers examining the BE-4 engineâ??s main combustion chamber. Photo: Blue Origin
The headquarters of Blue Origin, the secretive rocket company in an industrial park here, is anonymous, with not even a sign at the road to announce the occupants.
On Tuesday, for the first time, Blue Origin, started by Jeffrey P. Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon, opened its doors to reporters.
“Welcome to Blue,” Bezos said. “Thank you for coming.”
Blue Origin is part of a shift of the space business from NASA toward private industry, especially smaller entrepreneurial companies. Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, founded by another internet entrepreneur, Tesla-chief Elon Musk, has been the most visible and most successful of the new generation of rocket companies. Last Friday, it launched another satellite to orbit, but an attempt to land the booster on a floating platform again ended in an explosion.
Much more quietly, Blue Origin has also had big space dreams but until now did not give outsiders a look at what it was doing.
For almost four hours, Bezos, who only occasionally talks to the press, led 11 reporters on a tour of the factory and answered a litany of questions over lunch. He talked garrulously, his speech punctured by loud laughs. “It’s my total pleasure. I hope you can sense that I like this,” he said. First tourist trips in two years?
He described an image on a wall in the company’s central area, which showed two tortoises holding an hourglass and gazing upward at a stylised image of the planets and cosmos. Below is Blue Origin’s motto: Gradatim Ferociter, Latin for “step by step, ferociously” – no cutting of corners, but no dillydallying, either. “You can do the steps quickly, but you can’t skip any steps,” Bezos said.
He also offered updates on progress for his space tourism plans. The reusable New Shepard spacecraft that launched to the outskirts of space in November and then made a return trip in January will launch again soon. Depending on how well the testing goes, paying tourists, six at a time, might start making the short trips, experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness in space as soon as 2018, he said.
At times, he told himself to stop talking and let his engineers make their presentations about a new engine, the BE-4, which is under development with tests of a full version beginning by the end of the year.
Bezos started Blue Origin in 2000, although few people knew about it then. For the next few years, about half a dozen people explored whether there might be a better way to get to space than rockets powered by loud, inefficient chemical combustion. The conclusion: There is not.
Bezos said he had studied and thought about rockets since he was five years old. “I never expected to have the resources to start a space company,” he said. “I won a lottery ticket called Amazon南京夜网.”
Bezos declined to say how much money he had poured into his dream. “Let’s just say it’s a lot,” he said. Space’s Willy Wonka
Around 2005, Bezos said he began rocket development in earnest. Still, almost no one knew what he was doing. For years, what went on here was mysterious and unknown, like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in Roald Dahl’s children’s book.
Occasionally news would be tossed out to the outside world – an award by NASA, a blog post by Bezos, a video of a successful launch. Last year, the company made a splashy public announcement at Cape Canaveral, Florida, when Blue Origin announced it would launch rockets to orbit from there.
Like Musk, Bezos talks about Blue Origin less as a business than as part of a glorious future for humanity, with millions of people living and working off the planet. It is also a path, he asserted, that humanity must pursue if it is to continue to prosper.
His argument was simple: Energy consumption has been rising at 2 or 3 per cent a year. Even at that modest rate, within a few centuries, the energy usage would be equal to the energy produced by high-efficiency solar cells covering the entire surface of the planet.
“We’ll be using all of the solar energy that impacts the Earth,” he said. “That’s an actual limit.”
But there is much energy and raw materials to use elsewhere in the solar system, and eventually, he prophesies, there will be the “great inversion.” Instead of factories on Earth manufacturing sophisticated components that go into tiny machines that go into space, the heavy manufacturing will be done elsewhere, and Earth, he joked, 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.
For now, Blue Origin’s business plans fall in three categories. The first is space tourism, with short hops launching from West Texas on the New Shepard, a competitor to Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s space startup. Space tourism is not just a frivolity for the rich but a necessary steppingstone to develop the expertise in a new technology, Bezos said, much like the early days of airplanes or how video games spurred the development of more powerful computer chips.
Currently, most rocket companies launch, at most, about a dozen times a year. “You never get really great at something you do 10, 12 times a year,” Bezos said. With a small fleet of reusable New Shepard rockets, Blue Origin could be launching dozens of times a year.
The other business plans are for selling its rocket engines to other companies like United Launch Alliance, which is planning to use them for the Vulcan, a next-generation rocket to replace the Atlas 5 and Delta 4, and for its own larger rocket to lift payloads to orbit.
Bezos said Blue Origin was quiet, not necessarily to be secretive but to avoid overpromising itself. “Space is really easy to overhype,” he said.
The tour would not be the last time the doors are open.
Later this year, Blue Origin will give more details about its designs for the larger rocket that will launch from Cape Canaveral, and Bezos said there would be an opportunity to watch a test flight of New Shepard in Texas.
“We will not be strangers,” Bezos said at the end.
The New York Times
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