Blue Origin deal kicks off Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos' battle for space

Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' space engine company, will partner with United Launch Alliance, the Amazon CEO announced Wednesday. The new partnership unites the two biggest competitors to Elon Musk's Space X. This could the beginning of a battle between Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

Gus Ruelas/Reuters/File
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced a partnership between his company, Blue Origin, and United Launch Alliance. The partnership will challenge Elon Musk's Space X.

Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are in a battle for space.

Mr. Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon, announced Wednesday at the National Press Club that his rocket company Blue Origin will team up with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide engines for ULA's rockets. ULA is a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed Martin and provides engines to launch military and government satellites to space. Until now, it has been using Russian made engines. 

"We are going to do for space, and for your lives, what the Internet has done for the information age,"  said  ULA CEO Tony Bruno during the announcement.  

The Blue Origin-ULA partnership combines the two biggest nemeses of Space X, Elon Musk's private spaceflight company. 

“Competitors ganging up against you is the sincerest form of flattery,” Mr. Musk told Bloomberg.

Musk, the billionaire founder of PayPay and Tesla Motors, founded Space X in 2002. The company has already successfully taken supplies to the International Space Station and sent satellites to space for commercial use. 

One of the biggest battles between the two companies will be over their rocket engines. Blue Origin has been working on a new engine, called Blue Engine-4, for the past three years. Mr. Bruno said it will be another four years until the rockets are ready. The rockets will challenge Space X's family of Falcon rockets, which are also still in development. 

Before that, in Dec. 2013, Blue Origin tried to keep NASA from handing its historic Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to Space X, but the protest was denied by the Government Accountability Office. 

The history between Space X and ULA goes back even further. ULA provides almost all of the government's sensitive launches, including satellites and spy equipment. Space X has protested the partnership, claiming to undercut ULA. Space X filed a lawsuit against a ULA subsidiary for what they believe is a monopoly in the military launch business.

The next frontier for both companies is private space flights. Space X is already under contract to take people to space using its Dragon V2 spacecraft. On Tuesday, NASA awarded Space X a $2.6 billion contract to take astronauts to space. NASA said they hope to have astronauts going to and from the International Space Station by 2017. 

According to Bezos, Blue Origin's long term goal is to take tourists and researchers to space using the company's New Shepard spacecraft, but he recognized that could take a while. 

"If you're not passionate about space, go figure out something else to do," Bezos said  Wednesday, "because this business is too hard if you're not passionate about it."

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