CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is shipping his space business to Florida.
At a news conference Tuesday, Bezos announced that his Blue Origin space company will build rockets and launch them into orbit from Cape Canaveral.
He plans to send up satellites first, then people — including space tourists and even himself. He predicts the first launch will occur by the end of the decade; he declined to be more specific, saying more details would be forthcoming next year.
The as-yet-named rocket will launch and land vertically, the same method the company is testing for suborbital flights from remote West Texas. The first-stage boosters will be reusable to save money. The crew capsules will fly themselves and not require pilots.
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 36 will serve as home base for Blue Origin's orbital program. It's been idle for the past decade following a rich history of interplanetary flights for NASA.
The Washington state-based company — extremely hush-hush regarding most of its work — is the latest to set up shop at America's rocket-launching hub. Just 1½ weeks ago, Boeing unveiled its new hub for the future Starliner fleet that is intended to transport astronauts to the space station for NASA beginning in 2017.
On a makeshift stage under a huge tent, Bezos told the VIP crowd of more than 100 that they were seated at the future site of the Blue Origin rocket processing facility. He pointed to where an engine test-firing stand will be located 4,000 feet away and, 2,000 feet in another direction, the new launch pad. The actual rockets will be built at a nearby location just outside the gates of Kennedy Space Center.
"What is going to lift off from Launch Pad 36? Well, I want to give you a little sneak peek. Here it is: the new orbital vehicle," he said, pulling a black cloth off a tall drawing of Blue Origins' future rocket.
"One day — I don't know how long this will take — but one day I look forward to having a press conference with you guys in space," Bezos said to applause.
Blue Origin has conducted one test flight of its suborbital rocket, back in April. It reached 307,000 feet, just shy of space. Bezos anticipates another test this year. The system is named New Shepard, a nod to the first American in space, the late Alan Shepard.
For now, Blue Origin is calling its future orbital rocket "Very Big Brother." The engine that will be used to power the company's orbital rocket already has an outside buyer: United Launch Alliance, which currently relies on Russian-made engines and wants an American-made product for its future Vulcan line.
Blue Origin already is collecting emails from prospective customers for a suborbital ride on New Shepard. Bezos has yet to set a pricetag or a timeline.
His goal is to put millions of people into space, with ultimate destinations of Mars and elsewhere. He calls it "a worthy challenge" that won't be easy or quick.
Indeed, California-based SpaceX — another private aerospace company founded by a billionaire — remains grounded following a launch explosion in June. NASA is its biggest customer, buying supply runs to the International Space Station and eventual taxi flights for astronauts.
Tuesday's announcement drew Florida Gov. Rick Scott and other dignitaries excited about the prospect of more launches and jobs coming to Cape Canaveral, still recovering from the end of NASA's shuttle program in 2011. Florida beat out four other states for Blue Origin.
Bezos, who grew up in Miami, made his fortune from Amazon.com, which he founded in 1994. Blue Origin was born six years later.
"I always tell people, if my only goal were to make money, I would just open a new kind of snack food company," he told reporters.
That would be easier, "But I don't want to do that," he said.