Bezos Not Concerned About Competition, Possible ULA Sale

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — With his focus on the long term, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos said Sept. 15 he is not worried about a possible acquisition of United Launch Alliance that could jeopardize a deal for his company’s rocket engines.

Bezos, speaking with reporters after announcing an agreement to build and launch a new orbital rocket here, said he was aware of reports that Aerojet Rocketdyne had bid $2 billion to acquire ULA, but said he was keeping Blue Origin focused on the development of the BE-4 engine.

“I’ve seen the same rumors” about a ULA acquisition, he said in response to a question about the potential deal. “Our approach on this is very simple, which is a heads-down focus on the technology. We’re going to build the best 21st-century engine that we can for ULA. Ultimately they will make the decision about what they want to do.”

ULA, which announced an agreement with Blue Origin one year ago to support development of the BE-4, has indicated that engine is the leading candidate to power the first stage of the new Vulcan launch vehicle under development. ULA and Blue Origin announced an agreement Sept. 10 to expand production capabilities for the engine at Blue Origin’s facilities in Kent, Washington.

However, ULA is also supporting development of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR1 engine. Should Aerojet Rocketdyne go through with an acquisition of ULA, many in the industry believe that it would replace the BE-4 engine on Vulcan with the AR1.

Even if Blue Origin keeps its deal to supply engines to ULA, it could end up competing with the company as well. Bezos declined to discuss the payload capability of his company’s unnamed orbital launch vehicle, but hinted there would be some overlap in performance between that rocket and ULA’s Vulcan.

Bezos, though, suggested that he was not planning to pursue launches of national security missions, which constitute the largest part of ULA’s market. “Part of what makes ULA such a great asset for this country is their expertise in dealing with these very high-value government payloads,” he said. “That expertise is something that is very unique to them.”

He added that he does not consider himself or his company in competition with other wealthy founders of space companies, like Paul Allen, Richard Branson and Elon Musk. “For society, it’s really helpful to have multiple people with slightly different approaches, slightly different strategies,” he said. “I’m a fan of anybody who is investing in space.”

“Space is pretty big,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities, and there’s plenty of room for multiple winners.”

Bezos said he is taking a long-term approach to Blue Origin, which he founded fifteen years ago. “I’m kind of well known for being long-term oriented, although I think Blue Origin is going to set a new standard for me in that regard,” he said. “You cannot hurry building these kinds of engines or these kinds of vehicles.”

That outlook, he added, means that he is not seeking to make the company profitable for the foreseeable future. “It is expensive, and I’ve already invested a significant amount in Blue Origin, and there’s much more to come,” he said. He did not specify how much he has invested, but a Blue Origin official said in 2014 that Bezos had put more than $500 million into the company.

Unlike Musk, who frequently states that his ultimate goal is to establish a permanent human presence on Mars, Bezos said his vision is more open-ended. “Do we want to go to Mars? Absolutely, but we want to go everywhere,” he said, something that he says requires significantly lower launch costs. “Our number-one opponent is gravity.”

“The vision for Blue [Origin] is pretty simple,” he said. “We want to see millions of people living and working in space. That’s going to take a long time. I think it’s a worthwhile goal.”