As celebrated entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Elon Musk continue to make highly-publicized bids for space travel, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos just scored a knockout contract of his own.
Bezos, who founded the notoriously tight-lipped aerospace company Blue Origin in 2000, has announced a new partnership with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) -- a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that provides spacecraft to the U.S. government.
As part of the four-year contract, Blue Origin will produce a special engine, the BE-4 -- which has spent three years in development, according to CNET -- for the ULA’s Alta and Delta rocket lines. The ULA then supplies these rockets to the U.S. Department of Defense and NASA.
The partnership marks a brand new day for the ULA, which previously relied on Russian-made engines -- a relationship that has become strained as the U.S. has heightened Russian sanctions given political unrest in Ukraine, according to CNET.
And Bezos’ contract is not the only move the U.S. space industry has made to cut ties with Russia. Yesterday, NASA announced a combined $6.8 billion worth of contracts to Boeing and Musk’s SpaceX outfit -- both of whom will now shuttle astronauts to and from the International Space Station, located in low earth orbit. These services were formerly provided exclusively by Russian rockets.
NASA aims to end partnerships with Russia by the end of 2017, according to CNET.
While Blue Origin’s new deal brings Bezos’ aerospace efforts to the forefront -- he is rumored to have spent roughly $500 million of his own money on the initiative, which has no affiliation with Amazon, according to Space News -- the announcement is likely to heat up competition in a rapidly evolving field.
In vying for the lease of a newly available launchpad last year, for instance, Musk famously snapped that Blue Origin was so incapable of developing a “reliable suborbital spacecraft” that “we are more likely to discover unicorns dancing in the flame duct.”