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Bezos Earth Fund pledges millions for climate justice

The Bezos Earth Fund today announced $203.7 million in grants and pledges aimed at advancing climate justice, supporting climate-oriented economic recovery projects and spurring innovation in pathways to decarbonization.

The pledges are part of a 10-year, $10 billion initiative backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to fund scientists, activists, non-governmental organizations and other actors who can address the challenges posed by climate change.

“This funding is just the next step in the Bezos Earth Fund’s commitment to creating catalytic change during this decisive decade,” Andrew Steer, the recently appointed president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund, said in a news release. “With each grant, we are helping organizations unblock progress and create pathways to a more sustainable future.”

Today’s announcement covers $73.7 million in immediate donations to 12 organizations, as well as a pledge of another $130 million to be given out by the end of 2021 to organizations supporting the Biden administration’s Justice40 climate initiative. Justice40 is aimed at delivering at least 40% of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate in clean energy to disadvantaged communities.

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Elon Musk goads Jeff Bezos as space spat escalates

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has fired a fresh volley of tart tweets at Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the Blue Origin space venture, in the midst of a regulatory tussle over SpaceX’s Starlink satellite constellation and Amazon’s competing Project Kuiper concept.

And this time, space lasers are involved.

The spark that lit Musk’s latest flame war came after SpaceX sought the Federal Communications Commission’s approval to amend plans for sending up tens of thousands of Starlink satellites to provide global broadband service. The amendment would let SpaceX use its Starship mega-rocket, currently under development, to put its Gen2 satellites into an assortment of orbits.

In response, Amazon urged the FCC to turn back SpaceX’s request, saying that the amendment proposes “two mutually exclusive configurations” for the Starlink constellation and leaves too many details unsettled. And in response to thatSpaceX told the FCC that Amazon’s filing was “only the latest in its continuing efforts to slow down competition.”

SpaceX also complained that Amazon was neglecting to resolve the FCC’s concerns about Project Kuiper. The FCC gave conditional approval to Amazon’s plans more than a year ago — provided that the Kuiper satellites didn’t interfere with previously approved satellite systems, including Starlink. SpaceX noted that Amazon hasn’t yet filed documents showing how it planned to avoid interference and ensure safe satellite operations.

More than 1,700 first-generation Starlink satellites have already been launched in accordance with previous FCC approvals, and the internet service is currently in expanded beta testing.

The Starlink spat comes amid the backdrop of legal protests that Bezos’ other big brainchild, Blue Origin, has filed against NASA for awarding a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract to SpaceX. Because of Blue Origin’s lawsuit, NASA and SpaceX have suspended work to adapt Starship as the landing system for a crewed mission to the moon, which is currently set for as early as 2024. (That date seems increasingly unlikely, however, and not just because of the lawsuit.)

In today’s tweets, Musk touched on the FCC filings as well as the lunar lander dispute, referring to Bezos without mentioning him by name.

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Jeff Bezos sweetens the deal for NASA lunar lander

In an open letter to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Jeff Bezos says his Blue Origin space venture will waive up to $2 billion in payments as part of a deal to build a second lunar landing system for NASA’s use.

The offer comes just days after Bezos rode Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital rocket ship to the edge of space and back. It appears aimed at addressing one of the factors that led NASA in April to issue only one contract for a landing system capable of carrying astronauts to the moon’s surface by as early as 2024.

That $2.9 billion contract went to SpaceX, in part because NASA said Congress didn’t award enough money for two providers. NASA also gave its highest technical rating to SpaceX’s proposal to use a version of its Starship launch system, which is currently under development.

Blue Origin and its industry partners ⁠— including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper ⁠— bid $6 billion to design and build a competing landing system. After SpaceX won the award, Blue Origin’s team and Dynetics, the third competitor for a NASA contract, filed protests with the Government Accountability Office. The GAO is due to rule on those protests by Aug. 4.

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Who’s an astronaut? The FAA weighs in

Hundreds of deep-pocketed tourists are likely to take suborbital space trips as Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, as well as the Virgin Galactic venture founded by fellow billionaire Richard Branson, ramp up their commercial operations.

But will they all get astronaut wings?

The answer appears to be no, if you go by the Federal Aviation Administration’s newly issued guidelines for its commercial space astronaut wings program. Those guidelines suggest that astronaut wings can go only to crew members on a licensed spacecraft who contribute to flight safety and rise above the 50-mile altitude mark.

Which leaves a big question: Where exactly will the line be drawn?

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Blue Origin’s space ticket sales approach $100M

VAN HORN, Texas — Blue Origin hasn’t yet revealed how much it’s charging for suborbital space trips, but founder Jeff Bezos said his space venture has already brought in nearly $100 million in private sales.

And those sales were made even before today’s first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket ship, with Bezos and three crewmates on board.

The first big step in Blue Origin’s sales effort was last month’s auction for an open seat on today’s flight. A yet-to-be-identified bidder won the reservation at a price of $28 million, but Blue Origin said the bidder had to defer that reservation due to a scheduling conflict. That’s how 18-year-old Oliver Daemen wound up flying today. He became the world’s youngest spacefarer in the process.

After the auction, Blue Origin executives contacted some of the bidders who lost out in the auction to offer seats on follow-up flights.

“One thing we found out through the auction process, and what we’ve been doing as private sales — we’re approaching $100 million in private sales already, and the demand is very, very high,” he said during a post-landing briefing at Blue Origin’s West Texas spaceport.

Bezos hinted that Blue Origin would continue with the private-sales approach. “We’re going to keep after that,” he said.

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Jeff Bezos has his ‘best day ever’ in space

VAN HORN, Texas — As of today, Jeff Bezos is not only the richest person on Earth. He’s the richest person to fly to space as well.

The billionaire and three crewmates — including the world’s oldest space traveler and the youngest — took a 10-minute ride on a reusable New Shepard rocket ship that was built by Blue Origin, the company created by Bezos in 2000.

“There’s a very happy group of people in this capsule!” Bezos could be heard saying just after touchdown. “Best day ever!”

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Jeff Bezos says he’s not nervous about space trip

VAN HORN, Texas — It’s T-minus 1 day for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ suborbital spaceflight, and he feels fine.

On July 20, the world’s richest individual is due to take a ride on the New Shepard spaceship built by his Blue Origin space venture.

“People keep asking me if I am nervous,” Bezos said today on “CBS This Morning,” during an interview that also included his three crewmates. “I am not really nervous. I am excited. I am curious. I want to know what we are going to learn.”

All four soon-to-be spacefliers seemed in good spirits as the faced the camera in their flight suits.

“We’ve been training,” Bezos said. “This vehicle is ready, this crew is ready, this team is amazing. We just feel really good about it.”

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Blue Origin says spaceflight customers are lining up

Jeff Bezos and his crewmates are still finishing up their training for the first-ever crewed spaceflight conducted by Blue Origin, scheduled for July 20, but Bezos’ space venture already has customers lined up for the New Shepard suborbital spacecraft’s future flights.

“We intend to have two more flights in 2021, for a total of three flights, and many more in the future,” Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of astronaut sales, said today during a briefing at the company’s suborbital launch site in West Texas. “So we have already built a robust pipeline of customers that are interested.”

A good number of those prospects are coming from the auction that Blue Origin wrapped up last month to sell the open seat on the first flight. The winning bid came in at $28 million, but Blue Origin said that person had to defer the trip due to a scheduling conflict. So, the company turned to Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, who had put in a lower bid but was taken on for the second flight.

Daemen took the spot, and the auction winner will fly later.

Blue Origin hasn’t revealed how much follow-up fliers have been signed up to pay; the price is apparently being negotiated on a case-by-case basis. But CEO Bob Smith suggested that the first flights won’t be cheap.

“We think we had 7,500 people in the auction from over 150 countries,” he said. “Generally, there’s really high interest. So the question really gets down to what’s the price point. … Our early flights are going for a very good price. You saw the interest during the auction was quite high. We had people well into the twenties [$20 million], all very interested. Some of that was skewed, obviously, by the auction.”

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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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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.