Blue Origin’s next CEO has a mission: Speed it up!

Jeff Bezos’ selection of Amazon devices chief Dave Limp as the next CEO of his Blue Origin space venture could well mark the start of a speed-up in the company’s tortoise-like pace.

For years, Bezos has sent out vibes that it might be OK to take it slow in the space race with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. He’d probably deny that’s the case, but it’s a fact that Blue Origin’s mascot is the tortoise rather than the hare in the tale from Aesop’s Fables, and that the company’s motto is “Gradatim Ferociter” — Latin for “Step by Step, Ferociously.” When it comes to space development, Bezos’ favorite sayings include “Slow Is Smooth, and Smooth Is Fast” and “We Don’t Skip Steps.”

Some in the space business would argue that going slow has put Blue Origin so far behind SpaceX that it’ll be difficult if not impossible to catch up.


Jeff Bezos picks Amazon exec to be Blue Origin’s CEO

Blue Origin has confirmed that Dave Limp, who is leaving his post as Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, will take over as the CEO of Jeff Bezos’ privately held space venture.

The current CEO, longtime aerospace executive Bob Smith, is retiring from the post but will stay on with Blue Origin until January to help with the transition, a company spokesperson told me in an email.

Limp presided over Amazon’s Echo hardware line and its Alexa voice assistant business, among other initiatives. The most relevant initiative for Blue Origin would be his oversight of Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite project, which is due to have its first prototype satellites launched as soon as next month. Those satellites will be sent into low Earth orbit on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket, but Blue Origin is a major contractor for the Kuiper launches to come.

Reports about the transition began percolating out on social media today, after Blue Origin distributed internal memos to the company’s staff. In today’s emailed statement, Kent, Wash.-based Blue Origin praised Limp’s record at Amazon.


Amazon forges satellite deal with Vodafone and Vodacom

Vodafone and its African subsidiary, Vodacom, have made a deal to use Amazon’s yet-to-be-deployed Project Kuiper satellite broadband network to extend the reach of their 4G/5G cellular networks.

The deal, which was announced this week by Amazon as well as British-based Vodafone, would give Project Kuiper business connections in Europe and Africa that are comparable to Amazon’s previously announced partnership with Verizon for extending telecom services in the U.S.

Vodafone and its subsidiaries provide mobile and fixed telecom service to more than 300 million customers in 17 countries, and partner with mobile networks in 46 other countries. “This is our second telco partnership, and we look forward to working with other telcos,” an Amazon spokesperson told me in an email.

Like SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network, Project Kuiper aims to provide broadband internet service to millions of people around the world who are underserved. SpaceX is far ahead of Amazon: While SpaceX has deployed thousands of Starlink satellites and has more than 1.5 million subscribers, Amazon hasn’t yet deployed a single Kuiper satellite.

Kuiper’s first prototypes are due for launch as early as this month, kicking off what’s expected to be an ambitious campaign to deploy half of the network’s planned 3,236 satellites by mid-2026. The satellite operations for Kuiper and Starlink are both based in Redmond, Wash.

Project Kuiper’s plan calls for selling satellite terminals to end users, as well as working with partners to connect geographically dispersed cellular antennas with the companies’ core telecom networks. The latter strategy is the focus of the newly announced deal with Vodafone and Vodacom.


Lawsuit questions Amazon’s deal on satellite launches

An Ohio-based pension fund has filed a lawsuit alleging that Amazon didn’t give due consideration to SpaceX as a potential launch provider for its Project Kuiper broadband internet satellite constellation, which is a rival for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite network.

The lawsuit, filed by the Cleveland Bakers and Teamsters Pension Fund in the Delaware Court of Chancery, says Amazon’s board of directors acted in bad faith last year when they chose three other providers — including Blue Origin, the space venture owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — but left out SpaceX.

The other two companies were the European Arianespace consortium and United Launch Alliance, which will use Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine on its Vulcan Centaur rocket. The lawsuit says the three agreements add up to Amazon’s second-largest capital expenditure, after its $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017.

So far, Amazon has spent nearly $1.7 billion on the launch deal, including $585 million paid out to Blue Origin directly, the lawsuit says.

In its filing, the CB&T Fund — which owns shares in Amazon — says that the company’s directors and officers, including the board of directors’ audit committee, made “no effort to properly discharge their fiduciary duties.” It suggests that Amazon’s decisions were unduly influenced by Bezos’ outside interest in Blue Origin.

The lawsuit tracks the tiffs that have arisen between Bezos and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk over the years, as well as the setbacks experienced during the development of Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket and ULA’s Vulcan rocket.

The pension fund questioned whether the company would be able to make a federally mandated deadline to deploy half of its planned 3,236 satellites by mid-2026. It implied that the prospects would be better if Amazon had struck a deal with SpaceX, which it said “has by far the most proven launch track record in history.”

“In the face of SpaceX’s proven reliability and cost advantages, Bezos-led Amazon’s decision to not even consider SpaceX as a launch provider illustrates the glaring conflict of Bezos’ affiliation with both Amazon and Blue Origin presented, and the substantial impact these conflicts had on the board’s ability to protect the best interests of the company and its stockholders in negotiating the contracts,” the pension fund said in its suit.

The suit seeks unspecified damages, legal costs and “immediate disgorgement of all profits, benefits and other compensation obtained by defendants as a result of their breaches of fiduciary duties.”

In an emailed statement, an Amazon spokesperson said that “the claims in this lawsuit are completely without merit, and we look forward to showing that through the legal process.”


Amazon revises Project Kuiper satellite plans … again

Amazon’s plans to launch the first prototype satellites for its Project Kuiper broadband internet constellation have changed for the second time in a year — and once again, rocket development snags are the reason.

The revised plans call for KuiperSat-1 and KuiperSat-2 to be sent into low Earth orbit by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, with launch set for no earlier than Sept. 26 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

The spacecraft are meant to test the systems and processes that Amazon will use for thousands of satellites designed to provide global internet access. Production of those satellites is scheduled to begin this year at a 172,000-square-foot factory in Kirkland, Wash.


Amazon’s Project Kuiper plans satellite processing facility

Construction is underway for a $120 million facility in Florida that will process Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellites for launch — marking one more giant leap toward creating the company’s global broadband internet constellation.

Details about the facility came to light today at a ceremony hosted by Amazon and Space Florida, the state’s aerospace industry development agency, at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch and Landing Facility. That former space shuttle landing strip where Amazon’s 100,000-square-foot facility will take shape in the months ahead.

The construction project complements Amazon’s efforts to create a 172,000-square-foot satellite production facility in Kirkland, Wash., which will turn out thousands of satellites for Project Kuiper. Today Amazon said that facility will begin production by the end of this year.

Amazon’s plans call for setting up a 3,236-satellite constellation, with at least half of those satellites launched by mid-2026. The resulting network is meant to provide broadband internet access for tens of millions of people around the world who are currently underserved — and will facilitate satellite-based offerings from Amazon Web Services and the Seattle-based company’s other divisions.


Space startups get a boost from Amazon’s cloud

The 14 startups selected for Amazon Web Services’ third annual AWS Space Accelerator program include a company that’s building 3D-printed space capsules, a company that’s developing a fleet of space robots — and even a company that’s headquartered in Amazon’s neck of the woods.

Seattle-based Integrate Space is the first startup from Washington state chosen to participate in the program.

“I’m stoked (all pun intended) to be supported by a Seattle-based company … as the Seattle space startup scene has grown so much over the past 10 years,” Integrate Space co-founder and CEO John Conafay told me in an email.


Could the Pacific Northwest become ‘Quantum Valley’?

California’s Silicon Valley may rule the roost for internet startups, and Kendall Square in the Boston area may set the pace for the biotech industry, but could the Pacific Northwest leap into the lead for quantum computing?

Experts who are exploring one of the computing world’s hottest frontiers say there’s a chance that Seattle could become the heart of a “Quantum Valley” — but it could take years for the promise of quantum computing to pay off.

“I’d say we’re on the order of a decade plus before we start to see this start to really materialize,” said Louis Terminello, associate laboratory director for physical and computational sciences at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Terminello is among the authors of a recent commentary calling for increased public investment to solidify the Pacific Northwest as home of the nation’s top regional cluster for research and development in quantum information science — in short, Quantum Valley.


Amazon shows off antennas for Kuiper satellite network

After years of development, Amazon is showing off the antennas it plans to use for its Project Kuiper satellite broadband network — and says it plans to begin offering beta service for large customers next year.

The largest antenna, for enterprise customers, is about the size of a café table. The antenna designed for home use is as big as an LP record’s album sleeve and should cost around $400 to make. The smallest antenna, still under development, is just a little bigger than an ebook reader.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t contrast it to a Kindle here,” said Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices and services, who helpfully made the comparison today during the big reveal at the Satellite 2023 conference in Washington, D.C.

Amazon hasn’t yet launched any of the 3,236 satellites for the constellation it plans to operate in low Earth orbit — and it’s far behind SpaceX, which says it already has more than a million customers for its Starlink broadband service. But Limp insisted that Amazon was in position to make rapid progress over the next year.

He noted that the first two prototype Kuiper satellites have just been shipped to Florida, in preparation for launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket this spring. And he said multiple satellites should be ready for liftoff by next year. The Kuiper operation is headquartered in Redmond, Wash. — not far from SpaceX’s satellite factory — and Amazon plans to start mass-producing satellites at a factory in Kirkland, Wash., by the end of the year.

Limp said Amazon was on track to launch half of the satellites for the Kuiper constellation by mid-2026, using up to 77 medium- to heavy-lift rockets it’s reserved at ULA as well as at Arianespace and Blue Origin. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns Blue Origin as a separate, privately held space venture.) “For sure we will be beta-testing with large customers in ’24,” Limp said.


Amazon and Google make a couple of quantum leaps

Today’s news from the frontier of quantum computing includes Amazon Web Services’ release of cloud-based simulation software for modeling the electromagnetic properties of quantum hardware, Google’s latest technological advance aimed at lowering the error rate of quantum calculations, and new recommendations about the public sector’s role on the frontier.