Jeff Bezos is building a rocket plant and launch pad in Florida

New rockets will be able to reach orbital altitudes

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The Independent Online

The tech billionaire space race is heating up after the Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced he was building a rocket factory and launch pad in Florida, in a project that will see him directly competing with Elon Musk's SpaceX programme.

Bezos' Blue Origin space startup intends to invest $200 million (£130 million) in a facility next to Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre, and the new rockets will fly from a refurbished launchpad at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, according to state officials.

While Blue Origin had already been developing New Shepard, a small rocket that can travel about 100 miles above Earth, the new spacecraft will be able to reach orbital altitudes beyond the International Space Station.

Blue Origin is still lagging behind Musk's private space travel venture, SpaceX, which sent the first commercial craft to the ISS in 2012, and delivered its first satellite into geosynchronous orbit in 2013.

The announcement follows last week’s opening of a Boeing commercial spaceship assembly plant at the Kennedy Space Centre. Both projects included financial backing from state, local and regional economic development agencies. So far, Florida has invested about $2 billion (£1.3bn) to lure aerospace companies to the state.

 

Bezos, who was in Florida to make the announcement, said Blue Origin also will test its BE-4 engines at the new launch site. The company is partnering with United Launch Alliance, a joint-venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, on the engine development.

"This is a translational moment... the evolution of a new commercial space industry in Florida," said Frank DiBello, president of Space Florida, an economic development agency.

After Amazon's development of a drone to drop off parcels, it remains to be seen whether the new rockets will be used for super-fast deliveries. Or, indeed, why the online retail giant's CEO can develop space ships, but not come up with a sure-fire way of ensuring you're home when your package arrives.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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