But, as Bezos noted, “the pad has stood silent for more than 10 years — too long. We can’t wait to fix that.”
Bezos said at his news conference in Cape Canaveral that Blue Origin will be “launching from here later this decade” but didn’t provide other details about the company’s timing. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
In April, Blue Origin, based in Kent, Wash., completed the first test flight of its New Shepard space vehicle. The unmanned craft reached Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound, and an altitude of 307,000 feet, very close to what’s considered the threshold for space.
Like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin is meant to fly tourists into space, allowing them the chance to view Earth from more than 60 miles away and experience weightlessness.
At the event Tuesday, Bezos unveiled a photo of the new orbital launch vehicle, which he said would launch vertically and have a fully reusable booster stage. He said the company would share more details about the vehicle sometime next year.
In an interview after the event, Bezos said, "The thing I'm most excited about is humans in space, and the vision for me is millions of people living and working in space."
But he said the the new vehicle would also be able to deliver commercial satellites to space, and could position the company to bid on lucrative government contracts from NASA and even the Pentagon. That could put it into competition with some of the industry's biggest players, including SpaceX, Boeing and Orbital ATK.
By taking up residence on the Space Coast, Bezos’s company will join a growing number of commercial entities that are slowly transforming Cape Canaveral into what NASA calls a “multi-user spaceport.” The commercial investment is slowly reinvigorating a historic stretch of coast, which has suffered since the retirement of the space shuttle in 2011.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX has a lease to operate Launch Complex 39A, which was used by the space shuttle program. Boeing is also increasing its presence on the cape, taking over a former shuttle facility to build its new capsule, the CST-100 Starliner.
The development on Cape Canaveral comes as the commercial space industry has made some remarkable achievements, fueled by a class of billionaires, including Bezos, Musk, Richard Branson and Paul Allen, who are pouring their fortunes and ingenuity into space travel. NASA has also helped prop up the industry by contracting out missions to carry cargo and, eventually, astronauts to the International Space Station.
Like Musk, who has tried landing the first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on a barge at sea, Bezos said Blue Origin would attempt to develop a reusable first stage. Being able to reuse the most expensive part of the rocket, instead of ditching it into the sea, or allowing it to burn up, would dramatically lower the cost of space flight.
"If you reduce it enough by making the vehicle reusable, then you can start to have people going on space adventures," he said.
The new launch vehicle could be powered by both the BE-3 and BE-4 engines that Blue Origin is developing. Blue Origin is currently in a partnership with the United Launch Alliance, which would like to use the BE-4 in its new rocket, the Vulcan. That deal may be in jeopardy, however. Aerojet Rocketdyne, which is also developing an engine, has reportedly made a bid to acquire ULA, the joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
If Aerojet does acquire ULA, many analysts think it would use its engine instead of the BE-4, leaving Blue Origin out in the cold.
But Bezos said that the company is undeterred by that prospect, saying that no matter what happens with ULA, Blue Origin needs the BE-4 for its new launch vehicle. "No matter what, we are building the engine," he said.
The launch complex that Blue Origin is taking over was in use for 43 years before it was shuttered. It was home to the Mariner missions, which were designed to be the first U.S. spacecraft to fly by other planets, including Venus and Mars. Pioneer 10, the first spacecraft to travel through the asteroid belt, also launched from there.
In his remarks, Bezos said that as a kid, he “was inspired by the giant Saturn V missions that roared to life from these shores. Now we are thrilled to be coming to the Sunshine State for a new era of exploration.”
He closed by telling the news media: "One day, I don't know how long this will take, I look forward to having a press conference with you guys in space."