Blue Origin eyes international expansion

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Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin is looking to expand into international markets, with the company in the early stages of eyeing up a launch site outside of the United States, CEO Bob Smith said earlier this week.

Blue Origin is also actively looking for partnerships and acquisitions “in Europe and beyond” to further grow its launch and space services businesses, according to reporting from the Financial Times.

Europe could prove to be fertile ground for the company, as that continent faces constricting launch availability due to the imminent retirement of the Ariane 5 rocket. That leaves just two rockets available for launch from Europe – Ariane 6, which has yet to fly, and Vega-C. Europe’s launch situation was no doubt made more desperate by the spectacular implosion of Virgin Orbit earlier this year. While there are numerous European launch startups vying to fill this gap – including Rocket Factory Augsburg, Isar Aerospace, and Orbex – none have yet to fly a rocket.

But while there are a dearth of rockets, multiple European countries have poured capital into building sites from which to launch them, Filip Kocian, founder and partner at Czech VC firm Golem Ventures Space, said in an email.

“Suborbital tourism, which BO offers, is a way to utilize those investments,” he explained. “Similarly to the [UK/Virgin Orbit] deal, I believe other European governments are willing to offer favorable conditions in exchange for utilization of their investments in spaceports and bringing some quality work positions there.”

Countries in the Middle East have also made great strides to advance their space programs, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These countries could also present favorable opportunities – from a large pool of potential space tourist customers to government incentives – for Blue Origin.

Blue has struggled to compete against Rocket Lab and Elon Musk’s SpaceX, companies that have developed reliable rockets capable of carrying satellites and other payload into orbit. In contrast, Blue Origin’s success has been mainly in the suborbital domain: a lower altitude point sometimes referred to as the Kármán line or the edge of space. Blue’s New Shepard rocket, which has conducted 22 successful missions, including six crewed missions that carried 31 space tourists, flies to suborbital space.

While New Shepard has a long string of successful missions under its belt, the vehicle has been grounded since last September due to an in-flight anomaly, and will not fly again until regulators green-light it for launch.

Blue Origin does have plans to go to orbit, however, and more directly go toe-to-toe with its competitors. The company is developing a fully reusable heavy-lift orbital rocket called New Glenn, though like everything else in the aerospace world, that program has faced a series of delays. The company is targeting next year for New Glenn’s maiden flight.

Acquisitions could also help propel Blue Origin to success, as the company’s programs continue to expand beyond the launch vehicles. Blue Origin also sells a rocket engine, called BE-4, is working on a space station called Orbital Reef, and most recently landed a $3.4 billion contract to build a crewed human lander for NASA. Even beyond tech, acquisitions could be a way for Blue to tap a large pool of skilled talent it will no doubt need to accomplish its various goals.

A major short-term benefit of European expansion “would be a qualified workforce – countries like Poland, Lithuania and eventually Ukraine offer space-trained workforce at a fraction of their cost in the U.S.,” Kocian said.

Thus far, Blue Origin has made only one known acquisition: that of Honeybee Robotics, a company that builds advanced robotics for in-space applications. That deal closed in January 2022.

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