The tortoise: Blue Origin sees small steps as key to space business

While SpaceX pursues an accelerated path to the moon and beyond, Jeff Bezos maintains that small, incremental progress will help Blue Origin prosper in the long run.

Blue Origin/AP
An artist's illustration depicts the capsule that Blue Origin plans to use to take tourist into space.

A week after SpaceX founder Elon Musk stole headlines with his proposal to send two paying customers on a flight around the moon next year, another private space company came out with more modest news.

Blue Origin, founded by Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos, has contracted with French telecom firm Eutelsat to send a communications satellite into orbit on its New Glenn rocket, scheduled for completion in 2020.

Since its founding in 2009, SpaceX has already carved out a niche in the satellite-launch market and resupplied the International Space Station. Meanwhile, Mr. Bezos’s 16-year-old firm has only flown its New Shepard capsule and booster rocket to the edge of space.

But Blue Origin sports a tortoise on its coat of arms, and Mr. Bezos appears content to play that role to Mr. Musk’s hare. He says he's confident that small, incremental progress will help Blue Origin prosper in the long run.

“I like to do things incrementally,” Bezos remarked during Tuesday’s Satellite 2017 Conference in Washington, The New York Times reports. His company’s motto, “gradatim ferociter,” means “Step by step, ferociously.”

Eutelsat rewarded this approach in its decision to grant Blue Origin the contract. While the company has launched satellites with SpaceX in the past, Eutelsat's chief executive, Rodolphe Belmer, suggested that Blue Origin's slow and steady approach better aligns with that of his company.

“Blue Origin has been forthcoming with Eutelsat on its strategy and convinced us they have the right mindset to compete in the launch service industry," Mr. Belmer said in a press release. "Their solid engineering approach ... corresponds to what we expect from our industrial partners.”

While some have praised SpaceX's ambition, concerns are growing that, under Musk’s accelerated timelines, “people working for the company might be run ragged by the demands, leading to human errors,” as The Christian Science Monitor reported last week.

SpaceX has repeatedly pushed back its target date for flying a crewed mission, raising eyebrows about its ability to make good on its promise to carry customers around the moon by next year.

"SpaceX has a great record of doing exactly what they say they're going to do but always several years later than they said they were going to do it,” astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell told the Monitor last week.

Dr. McDowell, who teaches at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, made clear that he had “full confidence” that SpaceX would succeed in sending space tourists around the moon, but suggested 2020 might be a more likely deadline.

That would give Blue Origin more time to hone its technology and broaden its activities. In addition to satellite launches, the company plans to send deep-pocketed tourists into space aboard New Shepard, an activity that Bezos says will help the company further refine its technology – and create a profitable business model for more ambitious space ventures.

"The tourism mission is very important,” he said on Tuesday, CNBC reports. “There are many historical cases where entertainment drives technologies that then become very practical for other things."

And while low-Earth orbit may not seem as exciting as the moon, Bezos’s goals are no less ambitious than Musk’s.

“The long-term vision is millions of people living and working in space,” he said Tuesday, according to The New York Times.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to The tortoise: Blue Origin sees small steps as key to space business
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today