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Is Amazon's (AMZN) Jeff Bezos Helping Usher in the Next Space Race?

Afrasiab Mian
Blue Origin is a privately funded aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight service company based in Kent, Washington, and is the brainchild of Amazon (AMZN) CEO Jeff Bezos. Founded in 2000, the company aims to take private consumers to space.

Blue Origin is a privately funded aerospace manufacturer and spaceflight service company based in Kent, Washington, and is the brainchild of Amazon AMZN CEO Jeff Bezos. Founded in 2000, the company aims to take private consumers to space.

Blue Origin made headlines earlier this week when it performed a successful high-altitude emergency abort test. The company launched its “New Shepard” rocket and capsule to a record-high altitude, and then simulated a catastrophic failure in the escape pod’s motor. The motor is located at the bottom of the crew capsule and is meant to quickly lift it away from the rocket in the event of an emergency. Even after igniting the engine at record altitudes, both the capsule and rocket were able to land and be recovered safely.

Out of this World

Bezos, who was named Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 1999, turned his attention to space the following year when he quietly founded Blue Origin.

Blue Origin came under fire in 2011 when it reported a failure in its suborbital rocket, which went out of control and had to be destroyed. Still, Bezos and his team continued to work hard, and each of the nearly dozen tests that have taken place since then have been successful.

Until Blue Origin relaunched New Shepard, no space rocket had ever been used twice. It marked what could historically be remembered as a key turning point in space exploration. For Bezos, it was the ultimate sign that his dream of lowering the cost of access to space is on the right track. Today, it remains an expensive endeavor, which Bezos reportedly funds by annually liquidating $1 billion in Amazon assets.

A growing amount of people believe in Bezos’ dream as well. NASA first gave the company $3.9 million in funding in 2009 and then $22 million in 2011. Since then, NASA has continued to provide it with support. The company is also currently in the running to receive military funding from the U.S. Air Force for support of new orbital-class rockets. Its proposal puts it up against Orbital ATK, United Launch Alliance, and Tesla TSLA founder Elon Musk’s SpaceX. The contract is expected to be announced in late 2019.   

A 21st Century Space Race?

Space exploration was initially a government-only venture. But the turn of the 21st century has given rise to multiple public and privately-owned firms which seek to bring regular citizens to the great beyond.

On the public side, large firms such as Boeing BA and Lockheed Martin LMT already have exposure to space-related ventures and are investing to expand their offerings. Boeing collaborated to help create the International Space Station, which saw its first component launched into orbit 20 years ago — ISS is expected to operate for another decade. These firms also invest in GPS technology, satellites, and other space-related technology. Meanwhile, European power Airbus EADSY is developing the Gaia scope, a billion-pixel camera that the company hopes will allow it to create a detailed 3-D map of the Milky Way.

Other players in the burgeoning industry include Virgin Galactic, Rocket Lab, Made in Space, and Orbex. In Britain, Orbex raised $40 million in funding and plans to develop a launch vehicle using a government-backed spaceport that will be built in Northern Scotland with the help of Lockheed Martin. Virgin also plans to launch from the UK, and like Blue Origin, hopes to take customers into space.

It would be incorrect to assume that space-related activity is only taking place in America and Europe. Ten private rocket companies have formed in just the last three years, according to the China Global Television Network. Russia’s space program has fallen on hard times due to budget restrictions, meaning that it will not be as active as it was during the first space race. Regardless, the 21st century iteration of the race appears to have already begun.

Looking Forward

“The first trillionaire there will be is the person who exploits the natural resources on asteroids,” astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson said three years ago on NBC. He went on to say that “there’s this vast universe of limitless energy and limitless resources.”

There is no timeline yet for any of these seemingly sci-fi endeavors. But in the meantime, investors can take a look at the companies currently helping advance the field.

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