If all goes according to Blue Origin’s ambitious plan, the Space Coast will become the opening phase of a “road to space” for millions of people taking their livelihoods beyond Earth’s fragile atmosphere.
The Jeff Bezos-led company is investing more than a billion dollars into the region to transform infrastructure — old and new — into gateways for its upcoming New Glenn rocket, a towering vehicle slated to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station no earlier than 2021. It will also be built, launched and refurbished here after landing on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
“New Glenn is all about millions of people living and working in space,” Scott Henderson, Blue Origin’s vice president of test and flight operations, said Tuesday during a National Space Club Florida Committee luncheon in Cape Canaveral. “It sets the foundation for building an infrastructure required to get to space.”
Bezos believes the future will see industry and other Earth-based happenings move beyond the ground and into orbit, the moon and possibly even other planets. When he launched Amazon in 1994 most of what he needed was already there. That’s not the case with Blue Origin.
“When he built Amazon, there were a lot of things he didn’t have to do,” Henderson said, noting that the internet, distribution networks and payment options like credit cards all made it possible. “In space, there is no affordable infrastructure in place today to be able to put the necessary elements in space to open up that kind of entrepreneurial opportunity for our future.”
To build out that infrastructure to space with New Glenn, Blue has embarked on a series of initiatives around the Cape:
• Out of the 2,000 total employees, most of which are in Kent, Washington, the company now has about 250 people working on the Space Coast.
• Construction workers put the finishing touches on its New Glenn factory at Kennedy Space Center’s Exploration Park in late 2017, but that’s just the first phase – the campus will nearly double in size in the coming years as land to the south is cleared for the second phase. The factory will also function as launch control center for New Glenn missions, which will take flight from 10 miles away.
• The reconstruction of Launch Complex 36, a pad formerly used for Atlas-Centaur rockets that Blue Origin now leases from the Air Force. Up to 600 people have been hired to build out the site, which already has some hardware, like propellant tanks, installed.
The investments by Blue Origin are crucial to the Space Coast, which almost didn’t get the company’s involvement in 2015. North Carolina was also lobbying heavily for the work and even promised to change its state license plate if New Glenn development made its way there.
But now Brevard County is the epicenter for Blue’s efforts to bring hundreds of employees and potentially thousands of visitors during its launches.
“Why would you invest what over the course of this project will be over a billion dollars and hire 500 or 600 people to build this kind of infrastructure,” Henderson said. “Everything big starts with something small. To put millions of people living and working in space, to build a highway to low-Earth orbit and beyond requires something of this size and scope.”
“That’s why you invest. Not just to meet today’s mission, but also tomorrow’s,” he said.