Blue Origin, the rocket company owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, has signed Eutelsat Communications SA as its first customer for satellite launch services, Bezos announced March 7.
Blue Origin is developing a reusable orbital rocket called New Glenn that is expected to debut before the end of the decade.
The satellite launch industry is difficult to break into, given the high costs, big stakes, and well-established competition, so the contract is a huge win for Blue Origin — a relative new kid on the block. The deal might also inspire other companies to consider launching with Bezos.
"We couldn't hope for a better first partner," Bezos said during a keynote address at the Satellite 2017 conference.
The target date for the first launch is around 2021, Eutelsat CEO Rodolphe Belmer said.
New Glenn is a follow-up program to Blue Origin's suborbital New Shepard launch system, a rocket and capsule designed to fly payloads and passengers to about 62 miles above the planet.
Test flights with onboard crew members are expected to begin this year. Blue Origin has not yet set a price for rides.
Like New Shepard, the New Glenn booster is designed to fly itself back to Earth so it can be recovered and reflown, significantly lowering costs. Tech billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX also favors this approach with its Falcon 9 and much-larger Falcon Heavy launch system.
If each company can safely and reliably recycle their rocket boosters — right now, most are simply dumped into the ocean as trash — major satellite outfits like Eutelsat could save tens of millions of dollars per launch.
Meanwhile, Blue Origin, SpaceX, and others could disrupt a decades-old industry and lower the cost of access to space for everyone.Next stop: The moon?
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, wants to colonize the moon. Ted S. Warren/AP; NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio; Business Insider
Both tech moguls and their rocket companies also hope to spark new industries around the the moon.
Musk said in February that two space tourists are working with SpaceX to pull off a lunar adventure in late 2018, in which they'll zip around the moon but not land on it.
The feat could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and Musk said if the company can pull off one or two such lunar flights a year, they could represent 10-20% of SpaceX's annual revenue.
How Blue Origin's New Glenn, SpaceX's Falcon, and NASA's Saturn V rocket systems compare. Blue Origin/Dave Mosher, Business Insider
Meanwhile, Bezos has secretly circulated a seven-page white paper around NASA and President Trump's administration about a plan to permanently colonize the moon.
The document calls for a spacecraft called "Blue Moon" to make Amazon.com-like package deliveries to the lunar surface starting in mid-2020 (followed by crewed landings).
"It is time for America to return to the Moon — this time to stay," he told Christian Davenport of The Washington Post. "A permanently inhabited lunar settlement is a difficult and worthy objective. I sense a lot of people are excited about this."
Disclosure: Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post and is an investor in Business Insider through his personal investment company Bezos Expeditions.