Science & Environment

Amazon founder signals space intent

Jeff Bezos Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Bezos discusses his plans for launching rockets from Florida

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has put forward plans to build and launch rockets from Florida's "Space Coast".

The tech entrepreneur's initial $200m investment will see him set up new manufacturing facilities and take control of the Launch Complex 36 pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

He made the announcement in a press conference at the station on Tuesday.

Mr Bezos tends to make little fanfare about his space actives, but he has been very busy behind the scenes.

In April, in Texas, he tested a sub-orbital vehicle called New Shepard.

This hurled a capsule vertically high into the sky. And although the propulsion unit did not return to the ground under control, as intended, the capsule did parachute safely to a soft landing.

A year ago, Mr Bezos's space start-up, known as Blue Origin, was commissioned to develop a powerful, liquid methane-fuelled engine for United Launch Alliance.

ULA, which lofts most of the military and national security missions in the US, intends to use the new engine on its next-generation Vulcan launcher.

The Amazon.com CEO says he will test the engine, codenamed Blue Engine-4, in Florida. And it will also power the orbital rocket that Blue Origin itself has on the design table - what Mr Bezos calls "New Shepard's sibling, her Very Big Brother".

Blue Origin is based in Kent, Washington, but like many "new space" concerns has been drawn to Florida by the incentives on offer following the retirement of the American space shuttles and the jobs that were lost as a consequence.

The development agency Space Florida is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in trying to lure new business.

But it is clear from a blog posting authored by Jeff Bezos on Tuesday that he is drawn also by the history of Cape Canaveral.

"As a kid, I was inspired by the giant Saturn V missions that roared to life from these shores," he wrote.

"Now we are thrilled to be coming to the Sunshine State for a new era of exploration."

Mr Bezos's $200m is expected to create roughly 300 jobs.

Image copyright BLUE ORIGIN
Image caption Blue Origin has had one test flight of its New Shepard vehicle

His arrival on the Space Coast will put him in direct competition with Elon Musk, who also made a fortune from internet ventures before getting into space activity.

Mr Musk's company, California-based SpaceX, already launches orbital rockets from the Air Force Station.

He is also refurbishing the old shuttle pad 39A at the nearby Kennedy Space Center.

The two entrepreneurs had an argument over who should get access to that facility, and of late they have been in a patent dispute over who owns the intellectual property on reusable rocket technology.

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