Blue Origin is a private suborbital spaceflight explorer and aerospace manufacturer. The Washington-based company has found itself at the aerospace industry center, thanks to significant developments that it has made with its products over the past few years.
Along with names like SpaceX and Virgil Galactic, Blue Origin is championing an industry that looks to become the future of humankind. However, while SpaceX is looking to improve the cost-efficiency of space travel and Virgin Galactic is still working on getting its first batch of passengers to space, Blue Origin appears to be doing most of its work in silence. So, it begs the question of what the company really is and what is it focusing on?
Jeff Bezos's Ultimate Pet Project
As many know, Blue Origin was founded by Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of e-commerce giant Amazon and the world's richest man. Bezos started the company in 2000 and has been running it since, using most of his funds to facilitate its operations.
Thankfully, the past decade has seen a sporadic growth in Bezos' wealth – and, by extension, his ability to fund Blue Origin. According to The New York Times, the billionaire now spends about a billion dollars every year on research and development for the company. He converts most of the funds from his considerable stake in Amazon.
Bezos' stake is so absolute that there are no ownership issues when it comes to Blue Origin. The billionaire got divorced from his wife, MacKenzie, in early 2019. As part of their divorce settlement, the billionaire got his former wife's interest in Blue Origin and The Washington Post – a newspaper that the couple acquired years ago.
Blue Origin's Goals
Blue Origin operates under the motto gradatim ferociter. Translated from its Latin origin, it means "step by step, ferociously." While that describes the company's strategy – and is, in a way, akin to what made Amazon what it is today – the real pointer to Blue Origin's long-term objective is in its name.
The aerospace company is looking to develop "technologies to enable human access to space at a dramatically lower cost and increased reliability." While Bezos has claimed that he doesn't believe humans should immediately abandon Earth in search of a new home, he believes that there is a place for millions of people who would like to live and work in space.
As Bezos puts it, migrating millions to space will eventually provide a means for preserving the Earth for much longer. In 2017, he explained that moving to space will offer opportunities to harvest its resources. By tapping resources from asteroids, Near-Earth Objects, and solar energy on a much broader scale, humanity can live for much longer.
On the flip side, humans will be forced into an era of stagnation if we fail to leave the Earth. Soon enough, people will have to start fighting to control the population and reduce the consumption of energy per capita.
"I don't think stasis is compatible with freedom or liberty, and I sure as hell think it's going to be a very boring world – I want my grandchildren's grandchildren to be in a world of pioneering, exploration, and expansion throughout the solar system," Bezos added.
Beyond just living in space, Blue Origin also has a vested interest in missions to the moon. The company has committed to the Moon Race projects, aiming to enhance moon exploration and fund related expeditions.
Last year, the company launched Blue Moon, its first lunar lander. The lunar lander is available in two variants – one that can carry a payload weighing 3.6 metric tons, and another that can hold 6.5 metric tons in the payload.
Blue Moon is a part of Blue Origin's Bew Glenn rocket.
One of the primary focus points for Blue Origin is the design of rockets. For now, the company has rockets that can reach space but not orbit the Earth. These are known as sub-orbital rockets. Primarily, Blue Origin's rockets can take research payloads and astronauts past the boundary of space. However, they can't take them all the way to, say, the International Space Station.
The company's first sub-orbital rocket was the New Shepard, named after Alan Shepard (the Mercury astronaut who was the first American to enter space). Designed in April 2015, New Shepard comes with a BE-3PM rocket engine. The rocket comes with a 12-foot diameter crew capsule, which detaches and travels across the Karman Line. Then, it arrives back to the Earth for repairs and re-application.
Keep in mind that Blue Origin isn't precisely a space tourism company. However, everyone agrees that space tourism could be an interesting way for these aerospace companies to raise revenues.
For now, Blue Origin has only sent a mannequin into space. Still, the company has lofty plans for human spaceflight. As a matter of fact, the company's crew capsule has a custom design for Earth observation, with a luxury vehicle's trappings.
Blue Origin is now close to space tourism. The company conducted a successful escape test in July 2018, taking its crew capsule to the highest altitude ever.
Blue Origin has commercial contracts too. In January 2019, the company worked with NASA's Flight Opportunities program. The company also signed a $10 million deal with NASA in August 2018 to develop a moon-landing system.
Last month, Blue Origin landed a $500 million contract to develop the next-generation New Glenn rocket for the Air Force. And in an additional developmental boost, two of its BE-4 rocket engines have been selected to help United Launch Alliance with its Vulcan Rocket – which is due to flight this year.
The New Glenn Rocket
New Glenn is Blue Origin's take on bringing people and payloads into space correctly. It is the company's answer to similar offerings from giants like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. Due in 2021, New Glenn (named after John Glenn, the first American to orbit around the Earth) is a hefty $2.5 billion project. It will be a reusable rocket with seven BE-4 engines powering it.
Blue Origin has claimed that New Glenn can carry twice as much cargo into space as any other rocket on the market.