Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bezos plans West Texas spaceport

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, flew into Van Horn, Texas, recently to tell key leaders how he planned to use his newly acquired 165,000 acres of desolate ranch land. He also gave his only interview so far on the spaceport to the Van Horn Advocate, run from the back of a local Radio Shack store.

The goal of Bezos' venture, known as Blue Origin, is to send a spaceship into orbit that launches and lands vertically, like a rocket. Their first spaceship is going to carry three people up to the edge of space and back. But, ultimately, he told the paper, his thing is space colonization.

Bezos was accompanied by Rob Meyerson, Blue Origin's program manager, whose resume includes stints as a manager on the space shuttle emergency return vehicle project and lead aerodynamics engineer developing the shuttle's parachute landing system.

Bezos said Blue Origin would first build basic structures at the Texas site, such as an engine test stand, fuel and water tanks and an office building, then begin test flights in six to seven years.

He said most of the original research and development would be done in Seattle. Bezos has said nothing else publicly about the project.

A Houston-based spokesman for Blue Origin, which was incorporated in September 2000 in Washington state, said there was "not much to see or tell" and the project "won't go anywhere anytime soon." He provided a short news release and a company fact sheet, which included their mission statement: to "facilitate an enduring human presence in space."

Bezos is not alone in looking toward the stars.

SpaceX, started by PayPal founder Elon Musk, plans to launch and deploy a military satellite this year using a rocket. The California-based company has conducted much of its testing in McGregor, near Fort Hood.

John Cormack, who owns the software company that created Doom and Quake, owns Armadillo Aerospace, based in Dallas. The venture hopes to launch its own brand of space rockets.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen spent $20 million to fund the SpaceShipOne rocket plane.

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