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Blue Origin spreads the wealth from space ticket sale

There are only so many postcards you can send to space and back, even if you have $28 million to work with.

That’s one reason why the Club for the Future, the educational nonprofit foundation created by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, is giving 19 space-related charities the lion’s share of the proceeds from the $28 million fare that a mystery auction winner is paying to go on a suborbital space trip.

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Facebook’s satellite team switches over to Amazon

Facebook has struck a deal to have more than a dozen of its wireless internet experts move over to Amazon to work on its Project Kuiper satellite broadband network, The Information reported today.

An Amazon spokesperson told me that the report was accurate.

Such a deal represents another step in Amazon’s efforts to get its Kuiper operation up and running — and try to catch up with SpaceX’s Starlink broadband constellation, which already has more than more than 1,600 satellites in orbit and is expanding its beta program.

Amazon has vowed to spend more than $10 billion to get Project Kuiper off the ground. Under the terms of an authorization order issued by the Federal Communications Commission last July, Amazon has to have half of its planned 3,236-satellite constellation launched by mid-2026, and the rest by mid-2029.

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Federal funding goes to nuclear propulsion systems

Seattle-based Ultra Safe Nuclear Technologies and its partners are among three teams winning $5 million contracts from NASA and the Department of Energy to develop reactor designs for space-based nuclear thermal propulsion systems.

USNC-Tech’s partners include its parent company, Ultra Safe Nuclear Corp., and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture — as well as General Electric Hitachi Nuclear Energy, General Electric Research, Framatome and Materion.

The team will work under the direction of the DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory on a concept known as the Power Adjusted Demonstration Mars Engine, or PADME.

Another contract went to Virginia-based BWX Technologies for a reactor design that it will develop in cooperation with Lockheed Martin. General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems of San Diego received the third contract, and will partner with X-energy and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

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OceanGate sub makes its first dive to the Titanic

After years of building, testing and dealing with setbacks, Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate has sent a next-generation submersible and its crew down to the wreck site of the Titanic for the first time.

“We had to overcome tremendous engineering, operational, business [challenges], and finally COVID-19 challenges to get here, and I am so proud of this team and grateful for the support of our many partners,” OceanGate’s founder and CEO, Stockton Rush, said today in a news release.

The first fruits of OceanGate’s 12,500-foot-deep dive in the North Atlantic include photos that show the frame of a stained-glass window and fragments of floor tile from the ocean liner, which hit an iceberg and sank during its maiden voyage from England to New York in 1912.

The loss of the ship and more than 1,500 of the people who were on board — plus the wreck’s rediscovery in 1985 — made the saga of the Titanic one of the history’s best-known sea tragedies.

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How tech titans gave a boost to space tourism

The suborbital spaceships built by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceline may look totally different, but financially speaking, they have something in common: They both have connections to Seattle tech billionaires.

The connection is obvious in the case of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship. Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000, about six years after he founded Seattle-based Amazon — and he has said he sells off a billion dollars in Amazon stock annually to fund his privately held space company.

Today the Federal Aviation Administration said it has issued its formal approval for New Shepard’s launch on July 20 from Blue Origin’s West Texas spaceport, with Bezos and three crewmates seated on board. It’ll be the first crewed mission for the suborbital craft, which has been put through 15 uncrewed test flights over the course of more than five years.

Bezos’ trip is due to take place just days after Branson took a ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, known as VSS Unity. Both trips are meant to blaze a trail for tourists and researchers to get a sample of the space environment, including a few minutes of zero gravity and wide-angle views of the curving Earth beneath the black sky of space.

Blue Origin’s headquarters has been in the Seattle area from the company’s inception. But Virgin Galactic, which is headquartered in New Mexico, has a less obvious connection to the Seattle tech community.

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Billionaire Richard Branson savors his trip to space

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson rode his company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane into the skies over New Mexico today and did something that no billionaire has done before.

In the company of five crewmates, Branson became the first billionaire to take a rocket-powered ride on his own company’s spaceship, rising above the 50-mile mark that the Federal Aviation Administration considers the boundary of outer space.

Only two other billionaires are in the same class: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who flew to New Mexico to see Branson off and has reportedly reserved a ticket for a Virgin Galactic flight; and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who’s getting ready for a suborbital space ride on the rocket ship built by his Blue Origin space venture.

At its peak, the VSS Unity plane rose to an altitude of 53.5 miles (86.2 kilometers). On the way down, Branson said it was the “experience of a lifetime.”

“I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid,” he told the crowd at New Mexico’s Spaceport America during a post-landing ceremony. “Honestly, nothing could prepare you for the view from space. The whole thing was just magical.”

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Blue Origin fuels space feud with Virgin Galactic

Jeff Bezos has a longstanding rivalry with SpaceX’s Elon Musk, but now his Blue Origin space venture is upping the ante in its spat with fellow soon-to-be space traveler Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic — and the Twitterverse is not amused.

Today’s escalation from Blue Origin came in the form of a tweet drawing distinctions between a suborbital ride on its New Shepard spaceship and Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipOne rocket plane.

The tweet’s infographic noted that New Shepard would fly above the 100-kilometer (62-mile) altitude that is currently considered the international boundary of outer space, while New Shepard’s target altitude is 50 miles, which is accepted by the Federal Aviation Administration as astronaut territory. New Shepard’s other advantages — including the size of its windows — were noted as well.

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WellSaid gets a $10M boost for its synthetic voices

WellSaid Labs will have a lot more to say in the years ahead, thanks to $10 million in new investment that’ll be used to beef up the Seattle startup’s efforts to put a widening chorus of AI-generated synthetic voices to work.

The Series A funding round — led by Fuse, an early-stage venture capital firm that counts Seattle Seahawks star linebacker Bobby Wagner among its partners — follows up on $2 million in seed funding that WellSaid raised in 2019 when it was spun out from Seattle’s Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence.

One of the investors in that earlier seed round, Voyager Capital, contributed to the newly announced Series A funding. So did Qualcomm Ventures and Good Friends.

WellSaid CEO Matt Hocking said the new funding will go toward growing the text-to-speech startup, which currently has a dozen employees and plenty of customers.

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Jeff Bezos’ space venture approaches crucial phase

Jeff Bezos may be easing back from his CEO role at Amazon, but now he’s due to feel the heat at Blue Origin, the privately held space venture he created in the year 2000.

The next 31 days arguably could rank as the most crucial month so far in the history of a space company that’s headquartered in Kent, Wash., but also has employees in locales ranging from Florida and Washington, D.C., to Alabama, Texas and California.

The red-letter date is July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, when Bezos and three crewmates are scheduled to take the first crewed flight aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship in West Texas.

But there are a couple of other dates that loom large on Blue Origin’s timeline: The big one is Aug. 4, the Government Accountability Office’s deadline for deciding whether Blue Origin and its space industry partners should be reconsidered for a lunar lander contract from NASA’s Artemis moon exploration program.

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Richard Branson makes his move in billionaire space race

The billionaire space race is on: Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson is on the crew for the next test flight of the company’s SpaceShipTwo rocket plane, which is scheduled to cross the 50-mile space frontier as early as July 11. That’s nine days before Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos is planning his own suborbital space trip.

Virgin Galactic’s flight test plan, announced today, sets up a battle for the bragging rights associated with being the first person to ride his own company’s rocket ship into space.

Neither man would be the first billionaire in space. That distinction belongs to veteran Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi, who traveled to the International Space Station in 2007 and 2009.

Moreover, the definition of the space frontier could add an asterisk to the record book: Virgin Galactic sides with the Federal Aviation Administration in defining the space boundary as the 50-mile-high mark. Blue Origin plans to send its New Shepard spaceship beyond the 100-kilometer (62-mile) altitude that serves as the internationally accepted boundary of space, known as the Karman Line.

The height issue came up in an emailed statement from Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith, referring to Branson. “We wish him a great and safe flight, but they’re not flying above the Karman Line and it’s a very different experience,” Smith said.

Whether it’s 50 miles or 100 kilometers, the suborbital race to space is likely to make for a dramatic few weeks, considering the risks that come with testing new space vehicles — not to mention the egos of the billionaire space barons.