- Billionaires are pumping wealth into private space travel
- Site will manufacture reusable fleet of orbital launchers
Blue Origin, the private space travel company founded by Jeff Bezos, plans to launch its New Shepard rockets from Cape Canaveral, Florida, as the Internet billionaire builds his dream of tourism outside Earth’s atmosphere.
Blue Origin will invest $200 million in Florida and create 330 jobs as it makes the Sunshine State its base of operations. The site, Complex 36, has been unused since 2005, according to Blue Origin, after sending 145 launches thundering into space during 43 years of service.
“We’re not just launching here, we’re building here,” Bezos said at a media event in Cape Canaveral also attended by Florida Governor Rick Scott. “Our ultimate vision is millions of people living and working in space.”
The Amazon.com Inc. chief executive officer is among the entrepreneurs who made fortunes in other businesses and are now turning to space travel. Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is ferrying cargo to the International Space Station as founder Elon Musk talks of one day journeying to Mars, while Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is working on suborbital trips for adventure seekers.
Blue Origin will create a “21st century” production facility at Exploration Park that will manufacture the company’s reusable fleet of orbital launchers, readying them for repeated flights. Putting vehicle assembly near the launch site will ease the challenge of processing and transporting “really big rockets,” the company said.
Blue Origin will begin launches from Florida later this decade. In the meantime, it will test its U.S.-made BE-4 engine on the site. The BE-4 will power United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, scheduled to make its first flight in 2019. United Launch Alliance is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing that is the main supplier of U.S. defense launches.
Developing lower-cost ways to ferry tourists to the edge of space, loft astronauts into orbit and send supplies to the space station is a costly and time-consuming endeavor. SpaceX suffered a setback in June when an unmanned cargo rocket exploded minutes after take-off, providing a vivid reminder that space exploration remains difficult nearly 60 years after the Soviet Union lofted the Sputnik I satellite in 1957.
Blue Origin and SpaceX have both tried and failed to retrieve rocket components that normally burn up in flight after launch so they can be reused, which would significantly reduce the expense of space travel.
Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 seeking to offer sub-orbital flights so passengers can experience weightlessness and see Earth from a distance of more than 50 miles (80 kilometers).
The move to Florida marks a shift for Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin, which sent its first New Shepard test flight space vehicle in April from Van Horn, Texas.
The new investment is reviving a local economy devastated when the U.S. government ended the shuttle program in 2011. SpaceX and United Launch Alliance have also refurbished decades-old sites dating from NASA’s glory years for commercial missions on the cape.
"These launch pads are coming alive again," Senator Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said Tuesday.