The coronavirus pandemic has thrown any number of companies into unpredictability, and Blue Origin is no exception. Jeff Bezos’ space-faring firm racked up a number of successes and losses during this moment, but they’re also using the quarantine to catch up to their more prominent competitors: marketing. Blue Origin has finally opened its own online store, complete with merchandise.
First spotted by GeekWire this week, a company like Blue Origin having its own merch store might not seem like the company’s first priority. And it’s not — founded secretly by Bezos in 2000, but only fully brought to the public’s attention in 2016, the company has long valued its privacy. Its motto is even "gradatim ferociter," which roughly translates from Latin to: "Step by step, ferociously."
It’s very much the opposite of Blue Origin’s biggest public competition, SpaceX, whose founder, Elon Musk, keeps the company in the headlines constantly with both professional and personal announcements. It’s a strategy that has mostly paid off for SpaceX, which polling shows is among the most popular companies in the world among millennial men. Musk was even photographed wearing an "Occupy Mars" t-shirt produced by the company while holding his newborn son this week.
Blue Origin has kept busy during the Covid-19 pandemic, which is controversial by itself. In 2018, it won an Air Force contract for the development of infrastructure and certification for National Security launches, which the military branch wants to compete with others before it comes to a final decision on upgrading from Russian-built rockets. That contract has allowed Blue Origin to stay open during the national shutdown, with "its future value to national security," deemed essential by the Department of Defense.
However, the company — which has seen multiple employees test positive for coronavirus — is not just working on the New Glenn system. It’s also working on New Shepard, a vertical takeoff and vertical landing rocket that the company wants to use for human tourism. “I don’t think that New Shephard is mission essential to the United States in any way,” an anonymous employee told The Verge.
A lander is in the works — Beyond its own rocket systems, the company is still competing for future contracts. At the end of April, NASA awarded the largest of several human lander contracts to what is being called “the Blue Origin National Team,” which includes fellow advanced technology companies Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper. The BONT will receive $579 million from NASA to develop a lander, the responsibilities of which it will split among its various companies. Blue Origin will develop a descent module.
Explaining its decision a few days later in a Source Selection Statement, NASA said that Blue Origin’s teamwork was crucial in its decision, saying it “strategically draws upon the unique capabilities of each team member.”
It wasn’t a flawless evaluation, though. NASA identified what it called a “noteworthy” weakness in Blue Origin's systems: its power and propulsion capabilities. “Technically, the design appears to be sound, but this design can only come to fruition as a result of a very significant amount of development work that must proceed precisely according to Blue Origin’s plan, including occurring on what appears to be an aggressive timeline,“ the report says.
That “aggressive timeline” could be one of the reasons that Blue Origin is feeling the pressure to stay open during this challenging moment, along with the challenges presented from SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, which has another charismatic billionaire (Richard Branson) at its helm. “There’s this insatiable drive to be the first,” one employee told The Verge. “We’re in a race.”
Any big competition usually has fans rooting on the sidelines. In case Blue Origin has any, they’ve now provided them with shirts.
The Inverse Analysis — It's unclear who the market is for Blue Origin merch. But by creating a store, Blue Origin is asking people to invest in its brand, its ideas, and the success of the company itself. The store is behind the competition — so far they only seem to have shirts and hats, while SpaceX has a wide variety of clothing and even models of its rockets — but it’s a start. The company intends on adding more merch soon.