Jeff Bezos’s rocket company gets virus lockdown exemption

Blue Origin, the space exploration company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, will continue to operate during the coronavirus crisis after being considered a “vital” activity by the United States government.

The Washington-based company, which has facilities in five other states, said it received direct correspondence from the Department of Defense as well as the Department of Homeland Security, granting it an exemption from national foreclosure on the basis of its future. national security value.

In 2018, Blue Origin was one of three suppliers to win a contract with the U.S. Air Force, receiving $ 500 million to develop its new Glenn reusable rocket system.

“Our work on New Glenn and all of its engines will have a direct impact on the national security of our country in the future,” a Blue Origin spokesperson told The Financial Times, adding that some employees may have gone to work at distance.

“We share resources across all of our programs and act as one team – both directly as members of Team Blue or indirectly as part of our supply base. We work together on everything we do and it would be counterproductive to separate that. “

A spokesperson for the Washington State Covid-19 Response Team confirmed the Blue Origin exemption.

The push comes as the company, funded by the sale of certain Amazon shares of Mr. Bezos, is preparing to launch another test flight of its New Shepard rocket system, scheduled for later this year. The project is designed to offer 11-minute space missions to those taking a day’s training in Texas. According to Blue Origin, registration page for future space travelers, New Shepard has “the largest windows in the history of spaceflight”.

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However, experts warn that the coronavirus epidemic could have a lasting impact on space exploration, delaying major missions by several months or even years if the launch windows are missed.

Although Blue Origin said it has not yet planned to change its launch schedules due to the impact of Covid-19, it added that it is continuously assessing the situation. He said employee safety is his “top priority”.

David Spencer, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Purdue University, a prolonged disruption would make it difficult to achieve the objectives of other projects – such as Blue Origin’s collaboration with Lockheed Martin and others to land on the moon in 2024.

“It is a difficult program even if everything goes perfectly,” he said. “With the virus issues, I guess they will go to a skeleton team on all of these things – because you can’t have a lot of people working together.”

The launch of NASA’s next Mars Rover, Perseverance, which is expected to take off in July, is also at risk in the space race if the coronavirus persists. Its launch schedule requires the alignment of Earth and Mars, a window that appears every 26 months. For now, the mission is on the right track, a NASA spokesman for FT said on Saturday.

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