Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin signed satellite operator Eutelsat Communications as its first paying customer as it prepares to launch more powerful rockets early in the next decade.

Share story

Blue Origin, the Kent-based space company owned by CEO Jeff Bezos, recruited its first paying customer after relying on its billionaire founder’s deep pockets for more than 16 years.

French satellite operator Eutelsat Communications signed on as the first client of Blue Origin’s New Glenn orbital rocket as it prepares for more powerful launches early in the next decade.

“A few months ago we started approaching customers and Eutelsat was very interested right away,” Bezos told the crowd Tuesday at Satellite 2017, an industry conference in Washington, D.C. “We will benefit greatly from their experience.”

In entering the commercial satellite market, Blue Origin will be competing with Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and France’s Arianespace, which have already been flying satellites for companies for years, and are readying more powerful rockets.

Locked in a race to cut the cost of space exploration and broaden the industry, Bezos in 2015 became the first to send a rocket to the edge of space and land it safely back on Earth. A space race, including Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic, could gain steam under the new administration, after President Donald Trump said in his inaugural address that the U.S. is “ready to unlock the mysteries of space.”

“Maiden voyages are typically offered at a huge discount,” said Luigi Peluso, an aerospace and defense analyst at Alix Partners, of the Blue Origin contract.

“But this is classic Bezos. At Amazon, he started with books and then expanded into other retail categories. I would expect Blue Origin to sell more launches on the strength of this announcement.”

Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket — named after John Glenn, the former astronaut and U.S. senator who was the first American to orbit Earth — will be capable of flying farther than Blue Origin’s New Shepard, which is designed to reach the edge of space to provide tourists a few minutes of weightlessness.

Clay Mowry, who leads global sales and marketing for Blue Origin, said in an interview that Eutelsat had purchased one launch on New Glenn scheduled to take place in 2021. The terms of the contract were not disclosed.

“In including New Glenn in our manifest we are pursuing our longstanding strategy of innovation that drives down the cost of access to space and drives up performance,” Eutelsat CEO Rodolphe Belmer said in a statement. “This can only be good news for the profitability and sustainability of our industry.”

Bezos’ Blue Origin and Branson’s Virgin Galactic plan to fly tourists into suborbital space while Musk’s SpaceX recently announced plans to send two paying citizens on a trip around the moon late next year.

Blue Origin has been circulating a seven-page white paper to National Aeronautics and Space Administration leadership and Trump’s staff about the company’s interest in developing a lunar spacecraft to touch down near a crater on the moon’s south pole, The Washington Post reported last week. Bezos bought the newspaper in 2013.

Bezos said he has been fascinated with space since watching as a 5-year-old as U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. His vision of the future is for millions of people to ultimately live and work in space. He has reportedly plowed more than $500 million into Blue Origin, which has received only a small amount of funding from NASA.

Paris-based Eutelsat’s satellites provide coverage for Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas. The company plans to launch five satellites over the next four years, according to its website.