In a neighborhood dominated by terrestrial pursuits such as steel distribution and package delivery, Blue Origin has erected a bulbous, blue-and-white, U-shaped structure that looks like a dry run for a lunar apartment complex.
It’s the new Kent headquarters for Jeff Bezos’ space exploration company, built for 1,500 employees.
“We’re going to fly humans, we’re going to build and design large engines as well as large rockets, and go back to the moon — all based from here in Kent,” company CEO Bob Smith told a large group of employees and contractors, along with half a dozen local politicians, at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday.
He said Blue Origin’s workforce grew by one-third last year, and “will continue to grow at that pace.” Between Kent and its facilities elsewhere, the company has more than 2,500 employees.
Blue Origin has a crowded agenda for 2020. It aims to fly its first human payload this year, though Smith emphasized that ensuring the safety of those first travellers will dictate the schedule. The company this year also plans to deliver the first of its BE-4 engines, which will be produced commercially in Huntsville, Alabama, and “we’re making production parts now” for the massive New Glenn rocket designed to repeatedly carry people and payloads to Earth orbit and beyond.
Its New Shepard rocket — the launch vehicle seen repeatedly climbing to the edge of space and then maneuvering back to a landing pad, much like the Falcon 9, made by Blue Origin rival SpaceX — completed its 12th flight last year. The company is taking names for “early access” to reservations for ticket-buying “astronauts” with the promise that “at the apex of your 11-minute flight, you will float above the thin limb of the atmosphere and gaze upon the Earth below.”
Along with its new headquarters, Blue Origin has a nearby building where workers toil amid a collection of real space artifacts and some science-fiction counterparts from “Star Trek” and Jules Verne.
The new building — a peaked, elongated blob assembled from metal panels — was built in less than a year, Smith said. After a January start, he said, Blue Origin vowed to celebrate the holidays in the new structure, so the mandate was, “You can cancel Christmas or you can get this done.”
Inside, a prototype of the company’s proposed Blue Moon lunar lander dominates the lobby of the 230,000-square-foot building. Despite the structure’s high ceiling, it contains just one story of offices and an occasional loft-style upstairs gathering space.
In October, the company announced plans to partner with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper to build the Blue Moon lander and offer it to NASA for its upcoming Artemis program, which aims to send astronauts back to the moon’s surface by 2024.
Blue Origin is opaque about its finances, but Bezos said in 2017 at a space conference that “my business model right now for Blue Origin is I sell about a billion a year of Amazon stock and I use it to fund Blue Origin. … So the business model for Blue Origin is very robust.”