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Jeff Bezos Sees ‘Golden Age’ for Entrepreneurs in Space

Posted by hkarner - 7. April 2017

Date: 06-04-2017
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Amazon.com CEO says lower launch costs will eventually ‘open the gateway’ for space entrepreneurs

Jeff Bezos laid out his vision for space-tourism flights that he looks to start next year in what he hopes to bring a ‘golden age for space exploration.’

COLORADO SPRINGS—Looking to start space-tourism flights in 2018 that he predicts will open the floodgates for a new breed of entrepreneurs,  Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos said in some years he has personally invested up to $1 billion to further those goals.

Flanked by a New Shepard rocket featuring the telltale scorch marks of multiple flights, Mr. Bezos appeared before a gaggle of reporters during a conference here Wednesday to lay out his vision for Blue Origin LLC, the company he founded more than a decade ago to lower launch costs and make reusable rockets a reality.

He said he was “hopeful” that Blue Origin will begin offering trips for paying customers next year, adding that “I’m super optimistic” there will be a large market for such 11-minute thrill rides in a fully automated capsule offering views of the earth from the edge of space. Blue Origin hasn’t yet set a price or begun marketing efforts.

But in his remarks, the often secretive Amazon chairman also laid out a much broader, longer-term vision of how Blue Origin’s accomplishments so far and its plans for the future are poised to usher in a “golden age of space exploration.”

Spurred by dramatic drops in the cost of access to space—which he predicted ultimately could be one-hundredth of current prices—he said “you will be living in a completely new world” that will “help open the gateway to this new generation of people” eager to start businesses involving space.

Wearing dark glasses, casually dressed and sometimes cracking jokes, an upbeat Mr. Bezos reiterated his argument that lowering launch costs promises a revolution in entrepreneurship and could provide a major boost for an array of startup companies world-wide. He said reaching the goal of affordable space access depends on three variables: talented people, money and patience. “And we have all three,” he snapped.

As one of the world’s most successful and widely known entrepreneurs—and a self-described “space geek” who became fascinated by human exploration of the heavens as a youngster after watching Apollo moon landings — Mr. Bezos has pumped big chunks of his fortune into Blue Origin. Until Wednesday, however, he kept the amount confidential.

But in response to questions about the company’s finances, he said: “I sell about $1 billion a year of Amazon stock and I use it to invest in Blue Origin.”

In another disclosure about ongoing development of a future reusable, heavy-lift rocket called New Glenn—named for late astronaut John Glenn—Mr. Bezos estimated that project alone could cost as much as $2.5 billion.

With few exceptions, Mr. Bezos has avoided federal funds and sought to finance his space dreams out of his own pocket.

Veteran space industry officials said the visual trappings of Wednesday’s event, with the entrepreneur standing on a stage against the backdrop of snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains, partly reflected the simmering rivalry between Mr. Bezos and entrepreneur Elon Musk. Both billionaires are stubborn, technically savvy and have a history of resorting to subtle one-upsmanship to comment on each other’s successes.

In the past, Mr. Musk has used comparably flashy settings, replete with strobe lights and images of him prowling around a stage almost like a rock star, to introduce new SpaceX hardware.

Last month, Mr. Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. made history by successfully launching and then vertically landing the main part of a Falcon 9 booster for a second time—after sending a huge commercial satellite into orbit. Blue Origin accomplished a similar feat earlier and did it multiple times, though New Shepard is smaller, typically flies to a lower altitude and hasn’t launched any satellites.

SpaceX’s feat prompted a gusher of publicity around the globe, driven by Mr. Musk’s predictions that his company eventually could launch the same booster as many as 100 times, with minimal refurbishment in between flights.

Asked about Mr. Musk’s efforts, Mr. Bezos said “we’re very like-minded in a lot of ways” but the “engineering approach is a little bit different.” But the Amazon chief repeated his notion that repurposing launchers will make economic sense only if they can be returned to service quickly, like airliners, with simple inspections and routine procedures calling for refueling and minimal maintenance.

Much like his refusal to be pinned down on the cost of future tickets or precisely when Blue Origin envisions launching commercial service, Mr. Bezos didn’t elaborate on how frequently tourist flights will blast off or how long he expects it will take until the same rocket launches several times a day.

Mr. Bezos began the press conference by climbing into the blue and white capsule named after the late astronaut Alan Shepard who was the first American in space, staring back at reporters through its super-sized windows and declaring: “Can you imagine how Alan Shepard might have felt.”

Jeff Bezos, aboard the capsule named after the late astronaut Alan Shepard, says he sells about $1 billion a year in Amazon stock to pursue his plans for space tourism.

But as his comments veered toward the safety of the suborbital capsule and the larger issue of a thriving space economy, Mr. Bezos was more specific. “We’re going to make it as safe as we can,” he said, by avoiding shortcuts and taking people up only “when we’re ready and not a second sooner.”

Once low-cost launches become available, Mr. Bezos predicted that the creativity of “entrepreneurs will be unleashed” and “you will see the same thing in space that I’ve witnessed on the internet over the last twenty years. And believe me that’s fun.”

According to Mr. Bezos, his dream of booming space startups depends on a profitable, self-sustaining Blue Origin. That’s the only way it will “help open the gateway to this new generation of people who will have this entrepreneurial explosion in space.” Noting that “it’s a long road to get there,” he said “I’m happy to invest in it.”

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