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Blue Origin

What is Blue Origin?

Blue Origin is a private spaceflight company based in Kent, Wash., and started in 2000 by Amazon's founder and executive chairman, Jeff Bezos. The organization's goal is to create a future where people live and work in space to benefit Earth.

Blue Origin's motto, "gradatim ferociter," or "step by step, ferociously" in Latin, reflects the company's strategy to develop incrementally. The company started with about a dozen employees in 2000 and now has a head count of about 3,500.

Blue Origin's mission is to preserve Earth by identifying additional material and energy resources, as well as relocating to space the industries that are likely to harm Earth. Named for the blue planet (Earth) from which the flights originate, the company is developing reusable rocket engines and launch vehicles designed to significantly lower the cost and increase the accessibility of space travel.

History of Blue Origin

The following is a timeline of important events in the history of Blue Origin:

  • 2000. Bezos incorporates Blue Origin.
  • 2003. Aerospace engineer Rob Meyerson joins the company as program manager and later becomes president, a position he holds until 2018.
  • 2005. Blue Origin's New Shepard program, named after Alan Shepard, the first American to fly in space in 1961, aims to develop a manned suborbital vehicle for tourism and scientific research.
  • Nov. 13, 2006. The first flight of Goddard, a developmental rocket created by Blue Origin for the New Shepard program, occurs. Named after physicist Robert Goddard, an American rocket pioneer, Goddard has since been retired.
  • 2008-2010. Blue Origin continues work on New Shepard, its vertical takeoff and landing spaceship.
  • April 2011. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration awards Blue Origin $22 million as part of its Commercial Crew Program (CCP), a project under which NASA works with business partners to build rockets and spacecraft.
  • Aug. 24, 2011. Bezos confirms the in-flight destruction of a New Shepard test rocket, Blue Origin's suborbital booster. The company said that the spacecraft made it to Mach 1.2 and 45,029 feet before it exploded.
  • Oct. 20, 2012. As part of its work with NASA's CCP, Blue Origin successfully launches a suborbital New Shepard capsule as part of a test of its rocket escape system. The capsule reaches an altitude of 2,307 feet and then descends by parachute.
  • April 29, 2015. Following several years of development, flight testing of the New Shepard rocket, including the propulsion module and space capsule, without a crew begins. After reaching a 62.4-mile altitude, the New Shepard booster achieves a powered vertical soft landing, the first time a booster rocket has returned from space to make a successful vertical landing.
  • 2016. Blue Origin plans to launch test pilots in 2017 and take passengers to space in 2018.
  • Sept. 12, 2016. Blue Origin names its two-stage orbital rocket New Glenn after astronaut John Glenn, the first American in orbit. Seven Blue Origin BE-4 engines will power the vehicle's 23-foot-wide reusable booster. The rocket's first stage will land vertically.
  • March 7, 2017. Blue Origin announces that France's Eutelsat Communications SA is its first customer for satellite launch services.
  • Dec. 12, 2017. The company launches a test experiment on New Shepard that includes space technology funded by NASA aimed at helping to save the lives of astronauts who suffer collapsed lungs and other chest trauma.
  • April 29, 2018. The company conducts its eighth test of New Shepard. The craft reaches a record 351,000 feet. The capsule carries scientific payloads for NASA's Johnson Space Center and German research teams. A test dummy nicknamed Mannequin Skywalker travels in one of the crew capsule's six seats to collect flight data. Blue Origin is expecting New Shepard's test flight carrying people to occur by the end of 2018.
  • June 21, 2018. Blue Origin announces it will start selling tickets to the public on New Shepard flights in 2019.
  • May 9, 2019. The company announces Blue Moon, a large lunar lander powered by the BE-7 engine and set to fly on the New Glenn launch vehicle. Blue Origin also says that it can meet the goal of President Donald Trump's administration to use the Blue Moon lunar lander to put Americans on the moon by 2024.
  • Dec. 12, 2019. Blue Origin completes its 12th test flight on New Shepard. However, the company has not yet flown any passengers on the suborbital rocket.
  • Oct. 13, 2020. Blue Origin launches the 13th test flight of its New Shepard suborbital rocket, which goes to the edge of space. The goal of the test flight is to test precision lunar landing tech for NASA.
  • Early 2020. Blue Origin announces that the earliest it will launch New Glenn will be the fourth quarter of 2022.
  • June 12, 2021. Blue Origin auctions off a seat on its first private astronaut mission for $28 million.
  • July 20, 2021. Blue Origin makes history when New Shepard successfully completes its first flight carrying four private citizens: Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen.
  • Oct. 13, 2021. Actor William Shatner, along with three other individuals, fly to space on the New Shepard rocket. The 90-year-old Shatner, Captain James Kirk on the first Star Trek television series, becomes the oldest person to go to space.
  • November 2021. Blue Origin loses a lawsuit it filed against NASA over a $2.9 million contract the agency awarded to Elon Musk's SpaceX rocket company.
  • Dec. 11, 2021. Blue Origin launches Michael Strahan, former football star and host of Good Morning America, into space, along with Laura Shepard, daughter of astronaut Alan Shepard, and four other passengers.

Blue Origin vs. SpaceX

Entrepreneur Elon Musk founded SpaceX on May 6, 2002, two years after Bezos established Blue Origin, with the goal of transforming the aerospace industry and enabling affordable space travel. Musk's overarching objective was to send a mission to Mars.

The first rocket developed by SpaceX, based in Hawthorne, Calif., was Falcon 1, an expendable, two-stage, liquid-fueled vehicle developed to send small satellites into orbit, that flew from 2006 to 2009. SpaceX also made reusable rockets.

Since it was formed, SpaceX has launched 134 missions with 132 successes, one partial success and one in-flight failure, while Blue Origin has launched 19 New Shepard missions, with one only one partial failure as the rocket booster crashed but the passenger capsule landed safely.

Other differences between Blue Origin and SpaceX include the following:

  • Blue Origin gradually developed technology to reach its goals, while SpaceX's goal was to become a profitable space company as soon as possible.
  • Blue Origin's New Shepard rockets have reached maximum speeds of 2,234 miles per hour and a top height of 66 miles, while SpaceX's vehicles have achieved top speeds of 24,600 mph and a top altitude of 363 miles.
  • Blue Origin viewed suborbital spaceflights for tourists as the key to expanding civilization's presence in space. SpaceX's goal was to reach orbit.

Future of Blue Origin

As for the future, Blue Origin is still aiming to develop more rockets and engines to launch people and payloads into space. The company's goal is to colonize the solar system.

In addition, NASA is preparing to decommission the International Space Station, which is only permitted to operate until 2024 -- although that could be extended until 2028 -- and find a replacement by the end of the decade. To that end, NASA has also awarded $130 million to Blue Origin and its partners to develop Orbital Reef, a new commercial space station, i.e., a mixed-use business park, in space. NASA's goal is to launch the new space station before 2030.

This was last updated in January 2022

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