Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos said he is selling about US$1 billion worth of the internet retailer’s stock annually to fund his Blue Origin rocket company, which aims to launch paying passengers on 11-minute space rides starting next year.
Blue Origin had hoped to begin test flights with company pilots and engineers in 2017, but that probably will not happen until next year, Reuters quoted Bezos as telling reporters at the annual US Space Symposium in Colorado Springs on Wednesday.
“My business model right now … for Blue Origin is I sell about US$1 billion of Amazon stock a year and I use it to invest in Blue Origin,” said Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon.com Inc. and also the owner of The Washington Post newspaper.
Ultimately, the plan is for Blue Origin to become a profitable, self-sustaining enterprise, with a long-term goal to cut the cost of space flight so that millions of people can live and work off Earth, Bezos said.
Bezos is Amazon’s largest shareholder, with 80.9 million shares, according to Thomson Reuters data.
At Wednesday’s closing share price of US$909.28, Bezos would have to sell 1,099,771 shares to meet his pledge of selling US$1 billion worth of Amazon stock.
Bezos’ total Amazon holdings, representing a 16.95 percent stake in the company, are worth US$73.54 billion at Wednesday’s closing price.
For now, Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin is working toward far shorter hops – 11-minute space rides that are not fast enough to put a spaceship into orbit around Earth.
Blue Origin has not started selling tickets or set prices to ride aboard its six-passenger, gumdrop-shaped capsule, known as New Shepard.
The reusable rocket and capsule is designed to carry passengers to an altitude of more than 100 miles (62 km) above the planet so they can experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of Earth set against the blackness of space.
Unmanned test flights have been underway since 2015.
Like fellow tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of SpaceX, Bezos says that reusability is the key to cutting the cost of space flight.
Last week, SpaceX relaunched a rocket for an unprecedented second mission to put a spacecraft into orbit.
“The engineering approach is a little different, but we’re very like-minded,” Bezos said of Musk.
Blue Origin is developing a second launch system to carry satellites, and eventually people, into orbit, similar to SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule.
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