Bezos' rocket company Blue Origin signs Eutelsat as first customer

(Reuters) - Blue Origin, a rocket company owned by Inc Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, has signed France’s Eutelsat Communications SA as its first customer for satellite launch services, he said on Tuesday.

Blue Origin is developing a reusable orbital rocket called New Glenn that is expected to debut before the end of the decade.

“We couldn’t hope for a better first partner,” Bezos said during a keynote address at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington.

The target date for the first launch is around 2021, Eutelsat CEO Rodolphe Belmer said. Terms of the contract were not disclosed.

New Glenn is a follow-on 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 crew members aboard are expected to begin this year.

The company 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, slashing launch costs. Tech billionaire Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, also favors this approach.

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New Glenn will have about twice the lift capacity of SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 rocket, with the ability to put about 100,000 pounds (45,400 kg) into low-altitude Earth orbits.

Blue Origin will compete with SpaceX, as well as the United Launch Alliance owned by Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, Europe’s Arianespace and other companies, for commercial satellite launch business.

Eutelsat operates a fleet of 39 communications satellites launched by several companies, including SpaceX, whose launches sell for about $62 million, the company’s website shows.

“We think that our role as an industry leader is to stimulate competition so that there is a stream of innovation ... and that access to space is easier,” Belmer said. “When the opportunity of ... New Glenn presented itself, we jumped on it.”

Bezos said his goal was to lower the cost of flights so that millions of people can live and work in space. His vision is to shift energy-intensive, heavy industry into orbit and preserve Earth for human life, while Musk wants to colonize Mars.

Reporting by Mike Stone and Irene Klotz; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn