Is Jeff Bezos's secretive rocket company coming out of the shadows?

Blue Origin's new Florida facility will enable it to move from suborbital flight to orbital flight, making it more competitive with companies like SpaceX. 

Blue Origin/AP/File
New Shepard, an uncrewed rocket, prepares to land in an area near Van Horn, Texas, June 19. The private space company run by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has completed its fourth successful uncrewed rocket launch and safe landing in West Texas using the same vehicle.

Aerospace manufacturing company Blue Origin announced yesterday in an email that it has broken ground on a new factory in Florida.

The 750,000 square foot factory will manufacture and test Blue Origin’s orbital rockets.

"It’s exciting to see the bulldozers in action," wrote founder Jeff Bezos in an email to reporters. "We’re clearing the way for the production of a reusable fleet of orbital vehicles that we will launch and land, again and again."

Blue Origin, known for its secrecy, emerged from the shadows on June 19 to announce that it had tested its fourth reusable rocket. That launch also marked the first time Blue Origin offered a live webcast of the launch event for space afficionados. Competitor SpaceX has webcasted many of its launch events.

The June 19 launch saw Blue Origin’s uncrewed New Shepherd rocket and space capsule both return to Earth unharmed after a brief trip to suborbital space. The New Shepherd is not designed to go into orbit, but to carry space tourists to suborbital space.

Mr. Bezos announced this week that all parts of the company’s orbital rocket, except the engine, will be manufactured in the new Florida facility. The engine, called the BE-4, is being developed in conjunction with the United Launch Alliance at Blue Origin’s home facility in Kent, Wash. – for now.

“Initial BE-4 engine production will occur at our Kent facility while we conduct a site selection process later this year for a larger engine production facility to accommodate higher production rates.”

Pushing into space

Until now, Blue Origin has focused on developing and testing suborbital rockets. This new facility will allow the company to explore orbital flight.

Orbital launches are harder, but they would allow Blue Origin to get into the satellite launch business, something that its competitor SpaceX has been doing for some time.

Last September, speculated that Blue Origin’s decision to build a new facility in Florida would force the traditionally secretive company into the spotlight.

Until recently, Blue Origin had been launching rockets from a private launch facility in Texas. September’s announcement, however, was paired with the company’s decision to move launches to the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, also in Florida.

In March, Bezos personally led a several-hour tour of Blue Origin’s Kent facility, giving reporters an unprecedented inside view into the company’s operations.

During the tour, Bezos discussed the company’s BE-4 engine development and the company’s attempt to end American rocket dependence on Russian RD-180 engines.

It remains to be seen whether Blue Origin’s recent openness represents a thaw in its traditional secrecy or a brief aberration, but one thing is clear: constructing a rocket-building facility in the heart of traditional space launch territory means the company will have a harder time keeping developments quiet.

Construction on Blue Origin’s Florida facility should be completed by December, 2017.

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