Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will build a rocket manufacturing plant and launch site in Florida, ramping up competition with fellow tech billionaires in the race to push the frontiers of human space travel and exploration.
Blue Origin, Bezos’s tech startup, is investing more than US$200 million to build the facilities next to the NASA Kennedy Space Center.
The vehicles will blast off from a refurbished launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, just south of NASA’s seaside spaceport, Reuters reports.
“As a kid, I was inspired by the giant Saturn 5 (Apollo moon) missions that roared to life from these shores,” Bezos said.
“Today, we’re thrilled to be coming to the Sunshine State for a new era of exploration.”
The announcement came at a pivotal time in the US space industry, which is trying to attract private investment and technological innovation to lower the cost of space travel and improve safety.
Blue Origin is competing against Elon Musk’s SpaceX and a handful of other startups backed by billionaire entrepreneurs including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Virgin Group chief executive Richard Branson.
Like Branson’s Virgin Galactic, one of Blue Origin’s goals is to fly tourists into suborbital, and ultimately orbital, space.
“For sure, this is an industry where people are competitive but I think it’s also an industry where there is a lot of heart and people doing this for reasons of passion,” Bezos said.
Blue Origin has been developing and testing a small rocket in West Texas, called New Shepard, that can travel about 100 kilometers above the planet before returning to Earth.
The company’s new rockets, which have yet to be named, will be able to reach great altitudes, such as the International Space Station orbit, 400 km. above the planet, and beyond.
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