Billionaire Jeff Bezos is competing with billionaire Sir Richard Branson to offer suborbital personal spaceflight. Bezos has invested much of his personal wealth in the establishment of Blue Origin, more than a decade of research and development testing to make the company as successful as Amazon.com—Bezos first company.
Bezos displayed his excitement for spaceflight during high school in Miami, Florida. When he was chosen as valedictorian, he remarked at the time of the bold visions he had for millions of people to be living, working and playing in space. Bezos displayed his academic excellence from his perfect grade point average and receiving the award as a National Merit Scholar.
He was easily accepted into Princeton University in 1982. While a student, he joined the Princeton chapter of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space and later became the chapter president. Bezos graduated suma cum laude, holding degrees in electrical engineering and computer science.
Bezos received numerous offers from recruiters at several Wall Street firms. He worked for three different companies in New York between 1982 and 1994. It was at this point Bezos got the idea for a bold internet business that would eventually become Amazon.com. He resigned his position as Vice President at D.E. Shaw & Co. and moved to Washington state to launch his internet marketing business.
Amazon.com and the Internet Revolution
Initially established in 1994 by the name Cadabra.com, a year later Bezos changed the name to Amazon.com. Bezos has always held a long-term view toward profitability. From among a short list of universally sold products around the world, Bezos selected books. If this proved viable, Amazon.com would expand into other products. The goal was to make buying online intuitive, convenient and fast.
“Entrepreneurs must be willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.” –Jeff Bezos
Amazon.com did not show a profit until it announced its fourth-quarter earnings in 2001, with a profit of just over $5 million. Over the next decade, the company expanded into selling every possible form of product, either sold from its own warehouses or through affiliate sellers. Profits soon reached the tens of millions, then hundreds of millions. In 2016, Amazon.com achieved nearly $136 billion in revenue and a net income of $2.4 billion. This was the financial basis upon which Bezos acquired his personal wealth.
Blue Origin and Commercial Personal Spaceflight
Bezos quietly founded Blue Origin in 2000 in Kent, Washington. His goal was to make conventional suborbital personal spaceflight (a rocket with capsule) routine. When successful and profitable, Blue Origin would venture into orbital spaceflight for both spaceflight participants and payloads.
Bezos assembled a small but very competent team of engineers who specialized in propulsion, structures, guidance, flight dynamics and related disciplines. Blue Origin remained a “stealth company” for more than five years, while the design and development of its proprietary rocket engine and reusable single stage booster and its capsule proceeded. Bezos took an even longer view regarding Blue Origin; for more than a decade, nothing was known of this company or what it was working on.
The Bezos family had owned large tracts of land in Texas for many years. Bezos personally owned thousands of acres. He chose Van Horn, an area 125 miles southeast of El Paso, Texas to be the development and launch site for Blue Origin. The veil of secrecy was lifted in 2013 when Aviation Week & Space Technology published an article on the company. Blue Origin’s president and program manager, Rob Meyerson, was quoted:
“We have been focusing on the suborbital mission as the starting point to serve as practice for later development of our orbital launch system. That way, we intend to prove our underlying technologies while building out a very small and innovative company capable of repeated successes. Over the next several years you are going to see us flying our New Shepard suborbital system in a development phase, and then starting to fly astronaut passengers over the next several years.
On November 23, 2015, Blue Origin successfully launched its New Shepard booster and capsule to an altitude of 100.5 kilometers. The booster successfully landed and the capsule returned to Earth under three brilliant blue parachutes. This same booster would fly and land three more times before being retired. See the following videos of a recent launch:
11-minute clip of Flight No. 4
A shorter 3.5 minute clip of flight No. 4:
Blue Origin to Begin Commercial Flights in 2018
The flight test program for the New Shepard booster and launch abort tests for the capsule have proceeded with 100% success. The company has announced it anticipates launching its first test astronauts later in 2017. Once Blue Origin has achieved all the critical milestones regarding launch vehicle and capsule safety, it will apply for and undoubtedly receive Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approval and certification for starting commercial suborbital flights with paying spaceflight participants in 2018.
How about that development timeline? Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin have truly embraced the company’s motto: Gradatim Ferociter. Translated, it means “Step by step, Ferociously” Perhaps two more words should be added: patiently and persistently. Blue Origin has been working toward its goal of safe, reliable and exciting suborbital spaceflight for 17 years. It will very soon realize success.
Anthony Young ©Personal Spaceflight Advisors LLC
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