Bezos' Blue Origin taps former Pentagon, NASA officials for new advisory board

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Blue Origin said on Tuesday it formed a new advisory board of former Pentagon and NASA officials, as billionaire Jeff Bezos’ space company vies for lucrative government contracts and readies its first orbital rocket for debut next year.

The seven-person board will “provide strategic counsel on the company’s mission to radically reduce the cost of access to space and the utilization of in-space resources,” the Kent, Washington-based company said in a press release.

Members include former Air Force secretary Heather Wilson, former Air Force chief scientist Dan Hastings, and former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Kari Bingen, who held the second-highest ranking civilian intelligence job at the Pentagon beginning in 2017.

Blue Origin, founded in 2000 by Bezos, Inc’s chief executive, has launched and landed its suborbital rocket New Shepard more than a dozen times, and aims to complete development of its much bigger workhorse orbital rocket, New Glenn, by next year.

Bezos aims to provide government and private customers low-cost access to space, though he trails rival billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Blue has vied for lucrative government contracts in recent years and is competing with SpaceX and Leidos-owned Dynetics to win a contract to build NASA’s next human lunar landing system to ferry humans to the moon in the next decade.

The board also includes former directors of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, the management center for NASA’s crewed lunar lander program.

Blue Origin has received $220 million of a $500 million development award from the Air Force in 2018 to help mature New Glenn for military launches, but later lost to SpaceX and Boeing-Lockheed venture United Launch Alliance for a subsequent multi-billion dollar Air Force contract to launch military payloads to space for the next five years.

Reporting by Joey Roulette in Washington; Editing by Eric M. Johnson and Stephen Coates