Is Amazon Going To War?
Is Amazon going to war, like, actual war? More succinctly is Amazon’s subsidiary, Blue Origin, going to war? This is an interesting question one would not anticipate having to ask of the world’s largest online retail empire. With a global reach of approximately 1.2 billion people and comfortably at home in 58 countries, the only digital powerhouse on earth acting as true competition is Chinese retail giant Alibaba, with an intimidatingly close 1.1 billion customer reach. Yet, Alibaba does not build rockets, Blue Origin does.
Amazon is Blue Origin’s parent company and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has sunk a huge amount of his mind-blowingly vast fortune to launch (pun intended) Blue Origin and thrust it into the forefront of the modern-day space race. Personal legacy and human endeavors aside, the quest for stellar domination has become something of a fad for the uber-wealthy. Private big money names have been clamoring for the space spotlight for the last two decades. Names like: Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Elon Musk, CEO of Space X, and Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic, all have played major roles in the privatization of space flight.
But what about the militarization of space? With the tension between Russia and past administrations and the rising malignant currents of the Trump administration and China, the three largest single global superpowers are rife with animosity and the final frontier is an all too enticing option not to capitalize upon.
Fuel for the Fire
So, the question that needs be asked is, why has so much interest and private money been flooding the space arena over the past several years. Ironically, you only need to ask NASA about how fiscally profitable the space sector is. They will tell you it isn’t. Posting tremendous cash flows up front to have very limited returns over what could potentially be decades is not the modus operandi of most good CEO’s. Yet, these CEO’s and owners have done just that. Jeff Bezos has sold approximately 1.1 billion dollars’ worth of Amazon stock to finance Blue Origin and it has seemed to pay off.
The recent Contract awarded to Blue Origin by United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno has proven out the current strategy borne by Bezos in conjunction with Blue Origin CEO, Bob Smith. ULA is a joint endeavor by Lockheed Martin and Boeing; both juggernauts of modern aerospace engineering and quite possibly the most coveted contract suppliers in the industry. That industry is defense, as in the pentagon.
Blue Origins’ contract win was granted by means of its intensely powerful, BE-4 reusable rocket engines, capable of delivering 3.85 million pounds of thrust. This is still approximately 30% less powerful than the rival, Elon Musk trademark, Falcon Heavy, but the cost effective reusable nature of the BE-4, which will power Blue Origins’ “New Glenn” rocket as well, will ultimately save tens of millions of dollars over competitor products. So, much like Amazon undercuts the retail market, it would seem they have done so again, in the rocket market.
Imagine it… The Space Force
With an anticipated launch date expected in 2020 the race is on in earnest once again to force the vacuous veil back yet further still. Speaking of force, a serendipitously timed event marked an unusual development that may prove to be a stream of even greater revenue than civilian space ferries. The much mentioned and dually criticized sixth branch of the military, The Space Force.
The uncharted territorial display of power was issued by President Trump at an unexpected time of great political upheaval. While there are those that may suspect the flamboyant president of producing little more than a publicity stunt to engage or distract the country, the development of the more fiscally conservative rocket engines by Blue Origins could well indeed make a more traditional fighting force in space possible; while directives from the president have moved the pentagon to proceed in exactly that direction.
While remaining speculation at this point, the mere fact that it is a possibility speaks to the depth of the waters we now navigate. Bezos and Blue Origins could be poised to become the single largest producers of rocket engines for the forthcoming Space Force. This would be very lucrative, indeed. Just ask Daimler-Benz about what a military contract of such prominence will afford you.
You Say Crisis, I Say Opportunity
As with all conflict there is money to be made, opportunity to be exploited and technological advancements are par for the course. Until recently ULA was compelled to use the RD-180 rocket engine for the Atlas V to push heavy loads into orbit. Though, not long after the annexation of Crimea, Congress has urged the adoption of alternate sources for providing launch capabilities. As in, not Russian.
The RD-180 is a Russian manufactured rocket engine. Efforts toward free trade and a globalized marketplace are well and good but when it comes to launching satellites charged with our most sensitive national security concerns and the escalating divisions among our countries, a practical safeguard would be to develop and apply an American made engine to the task.
Enter, Blue Origin. A weaponized space is not something to scoff at and the reality is that like all other arenas of war, dominance by any means is zealously sought. To suggest Amazon’s founder is using his private fortune to finance non-terrestrial military endeavors is currently a bridge too far, but the quest to dominate an entire arena of business is a process with which the gentleman is all too familiar. Amazon has been a delivery vehicle for millions of products to billions of people and suggesting that their next vehicle will not only deliver humans and cargo into orbit, but spaced based weapons as well, is not quite so far a stretch of the imagination.
A somewhat disturbing question arises when considering the possible direction of Blue Origins’ future.
With Amazon as a parent company and Bezos as a proprietary owner and financier, what then are the ethics surrounding the online retailer’s global customer base effectively financing a U.S. National security agenda and providing the ways and means to militarize space?
“We are not the people who choose to weaponize space, but if we are challenged we will respond.”
“The Defense Department is today working on a means to defend our existing capabilities and we will be working on methods to project our national power onto our adversaries.”
History has proven out that provocation is tantamount to action. The idea of Star Wars X-wings and deep space battles have long since fascinated the minds of writers, readers and watchers the world over and it would appear the financial resources of the world’s richest man are positioned to make that dream a reality. How the empires of the world will practically respond to the would-be extraterrestrial American war machine is anybody’s guess; but perhaps, not so deep a trench to fathom.
A Gift and a Curse
Jeff Bezos is an interesting profile in human duality. His philanthropic endeavors are of unprecedented scale. With a current personal commitment upwards of two billion dollars to fund preschool programs for underprivileged children and plans to build homeless shelters across the country, the unimaginable wealth under Mr. Bezos’ control will be applied to acute areas of need and undoubtedly provide relief to many struggling people.
This saintly effort runs somewhat parallel to the cutthroat capitalist nature of his global empire. Reports from appalling warehouse worker conditions to hostile business practices have blemished the face of some of his charitable works. There is the obvious consideration that one deed is only possible by means of the other, but we shall save the philosophy of justification for another time.
The relevance to the aim of our question now, is: How do these seemingly paradoxical trends affect Blue Origins’ mission? A simple answer is perhaps most logical. The larger the empire, the wider the scope, the more vast the reach, the more viable Bezos’ personal mission becomes. I cannot suggest what that mission is or where it will ultimately end, but I do know we are all along for the ride and Blue Origins’ rockets are becoming more and more likely to become the vehicle for our departure. Ready mission control.