As competition from SpaceX steams, Jeff Bezos, having been freed from his daily obligations at Amazon.com Inc, is expected to turn up the heat on his space venture, Blue Origin.
Bezos, a lifelong space enthusiast and the world’s second-richest person behind Elon Musk, said last week he is stepping down as chief executive of the e-commerce company as he looks to focus on personal projects.
Blue Origin has fallen far behind SpaceX on orbital transportation, and lost out to SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) on billions of dollars’ worth of U.S. national security launch contracts which begin in 2022.
ULA is a joint venture of Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp.
Now, Blue Origin is battling to win a competition with SpaceX and Dynetics to develop a new lunar lander for NASA’s potentially multibillion-dollar push to return humans to the moon in a few years. Dynetics is owned by Leidos Holdings Inc.
Winning the lunar lander contract – and executing its development – are seen by Bezos and other executives as vital to Blue Origin establishing itself as a desired partner for NASA, and also putting Blue on the road to turning a profit, the people said.
With limited revenue streams, Bezos has been liquidating about $1 billion of Amazon stock annually to fund Blue, which he said in 2018 was “the most important work that I’m doing.”
A Blue Origin representative declined to comment, but pointed to comments Bezos made last week when he said he was stepping down as Amazon’s chief executive.
Sources say that NASA is expected to winnow the lunar lander contest to just two companies by the end of April, adding pressure as Blue Origin works through problems such as wasting millions of dollars on procurement, and technical and production challenges.
One of the development struggles Blue has faced is getting the lander light and small enough to fit on a commercially available rocket, two people briefed on the development said.
Another source, however, said Blue has modified its design since it was awarded the initial contract last April and that its current design fits on an additional number of available and forthcoming rockets, including Musk’s Falcon Heavy and ULA’s Vulcan.
Bezos already has transplanted Amazon’s culture on Blue, down to enforcing similar “leadership principles” and kicking off meetings by reading documents in silence, sources say.
But one industry veteran said Bezos needs to take a hands-on, operational role if he is going to fix a number of problems like bureaucratic processes, missed deadlines, high overhead and engineer turnover which, according to this source, have emerged as Blue Origin seeks to transition from development to production across multiple programs.
One person familiar with the matter said that Bezos has no desire to immerse himself completely in daily operations, and instead would prioritize major initiatives and new endeavors.
In his latest Instagram posts, Bezos is seen climbing into a crew capsule wearing cowboy boots, and sitting in his pickup truck watching a rocket engine test, which he described as a “perfect night!”