Jeff Bezos, Chairman and CEO of Amazon.com has quietly been bankrolling an entrenpeneurial private suborbital space enterprise called Blue Origin. Bezos, in a November 19 interview on the Charlie Rose show, touted Blue Origin’s progress:
Bezos noted that Blue Origin’s first development vehicle — the Goddard — has been flown to low-altitude several times from a company owned 200,000 acre launch complex in western Texas. To date, the tight-lipped Blue Origin group has only publicized the November 13, 2006 first flight of that craft.
“We are now working on a second development vehicle,” Bezos said. “There will be at least one more development vehicle after that…at least, I don’t know, maybe it’ll be more.”
Blue Origin is building a vertical takeoff/vertical landing spacecraft that will take three or more astronauts to the edge of space, Bezos said.
Dubbed the New Shepard program — paying homage to the 1961 suborbital flight of Mercury astronaut, Alan Shepard — Bezos said that Blue Origin’s effort is built on taking one step at a time. The company’s motto, he emphasized, is Gradatim Ferociter, “step by step, ferociously.”
“We’re not in any hurry…because we’re trying to build a very safe, well-engineered vehicle. [I] don’t see any reason to rush on this,” Bezos told Rose.
Bezos goes on to say that safety is the first priority and that there’s no preconceived test to check the space tourism market for profitability.
“I’m highly skeptical of such studies because you don’t really know until you do it,” Bezos explained. “But I do think this can be made into a viable business. You have to be very long-term oriented,” he said.
That’s an understatement. As of now, there are at least ten to twenty private companies trying for the space tourism market. I’m not sure if there’s enough millionaires to go around.
Bezos further adds; “…people who complained about a seven year-long investment in Amazon, … would be horrified by Blue Origin.”
When asked if he would fly in his own ship, he replied; “I will go. I definitely will go. I can’t wait actually.”
The race to get a viable and reliable suborbital vehicle is on and who ever is the first one to do so, without having any casualties in the process, has a huge jump on everyone else. And when they do, big profits! After a while, the field will thin down to maybe four or five companies, like the airlines did. So many millionaires will have their one shot and get it out of their system. But I think the industry will develop into carrying bigshot business types all over the world in an hour or two, possibly eliminating old style airlines. Why take an 18 hour flight someplace when you can do it in two hours?
Of course cost is the big initial issue, but as the technology gets better and more people use it, the cost will go down.
This was a subplot Ben Bova used in his 1996 novel Moonrise. The story was mainly about nanotechnology on the Moon and a growing global conservatism (hmmm…). But the main characters, the dysfunctional Masterson family, made its’ fortune building and using the same type of vehicle Bezos’ company is engineering now to take anyone, anywhere on the Earth suborbitally in an hour or two.
Art preceeding life? It worked for Jules Verne. And sounds like it might be a business model after all!