Jeff Bezos' Rocket Company Just Took a 'Ferocious' Step Forward

You could say that space travel, not online retail, is the prime passion for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. And his rocket company, Blue Origin, has announced its first paying customer.

Blue Origin’s first customer for its in-development New Glenn rocket (which was only unveiled in September) will be the French satellite provider, Eutelsat Communications.

Bezos announced the deal on Tuesday with a bit of stagecraft borrowed from Amazon.

“At Amazon, we always kept an empty chair here at meetings for the customer, sort of as a symbol that the customer should be at the meeting, but this time we’re going to fill that empty chair with a customer,” Bezos said from the stage at the 2017 SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition in Washington, D.C.

Onto the stage walked Rodolphe Belmer, CEO of the satellite provider, to applause.

Here are the specifics on the deal, as announced by Eutelsat:

The agreement with Blue Origin covers the launch of a geostationary satellite in the 2021-2022 timeframe. The New Glenn launcher will be compatible with virtually all Eutelsat satellites, giving flexibility to allocate the mission 12 months ahead of launch.

“Blue Origin has been forthcoming with Eutelsat on its strategy and convinced us they have the right mindset to compete in the launch service industry,” Belmer said in a statement afterward.

We also learned more about this massive new rocket being built by Blue Origin. On Monday, Bezos shared photos of the BE-4 engines as a teaser, and on Tuesday he shared a little more about what they can do.

New Glenn has quite a bit of capability. It can take 13 metric tons to [geostationary transfer orbit]. It can take 45 metric tons to [low-Earth orbit],” he said. “And it is, the design for booster stage is designed for optimal reuse. The engines, BE-4 engine, is designed for 100-flight lifetime.”

Blue Origin also debuted this flashy New Glenn launcher conceptual animation that shows off the reusable, two-stage New Glenn rocket.

Like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, New Glenn’s first-stage booster does a flip above the Earth and performs a controlled descent onto a floating ship in the ocean. It looks like Elon Musk’s rocket company has legitimate competition now. Just last June, SpaceX carried out a Eutelsat mission.

Also like SpaceX, Blue Origin is smartly making reusability a pillar of its business model.

“Our goal, and we won’t stop until we dramatically lower launch costs,” Bezos said during a panel discussion at the conference Tuesday. “It’s not going to be easy, it’s going to take time, but when we do achieve that goal, it will grow the entire industry.”

Bezos offered an interesting comparison for his most famous venture — Amazon — the historical success of which was like winning the Powerball (at this rate, a few times over).

“And you know there’s a very real sense in which Amazon — which is an amazing, fun, interesting, company to have started and lead — is lottery-winning for me, so I’m taking those lottery winnings and investing them in Blue Origin,” Bezos said. “I’ve worked on that for 15 years. Our motto is Gradatim Ferociter, which is Latin for ‘step by step, ferociously.’ I like to do these things very incrementally.”

On Tuesday, it took another ferocious step forward.