Jeff Bezos has the rare distinction of helping to lead two revolutions: the rise of e-commerce starting more than two decades ago with Amazon, and the current boom in commercial space activity, in which he’s participating through his Blue Origin commercial space venture.
So what can the space industry learn from the Internet revolution? Bezos addressed that question today at the 32nd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he was interviewed on stage by Alan Boyle, GeekWire’s aerospace and science editor.
“It’s very interesting, because I want to see the kind of explosive growth (in space) that we’ve seen on the Internet with all of the entrepreneurialism and the dynamism — it’s been kind of a golden age that you’ve seen over the last 20 years,” Bezos said. “That happened very fast. It happened in two decades, to see that kind of dynamism unfold. I can tell you why it happened. All of the heavy lifting was already done.”
Specifically, he said, the infrastructure was already in place. The local and long distance phone network was there to enable the Internet. UPS and the U.S. Postal Service were there to deliver packages. The credit card industry was there to enable remote payments.
“If you want to see a dynamic golden age, where thousands of entrepreneurs can be doing amazing things in space, we can’t do that, because we haven’t seen that in 50 years, and the reason we haven’t seen it is because the big heavy lifting pieces are not yet in place,” Bezos said.
He continued, “I think it’s really just one big piece: we need much lower cost access to space. It’s just too expensive. Right now, only the most important applications can make their way to space because of the cost to get there. And so we’re at a certain equilibrium, and that equilibrium isn’t taking us far enough, fast enough.”
“This is Blue Origin’s mission,” he said. “Our mission is to try and put in place some of that heavy-lifting infrastructure, and make access to space much lower-cost, so that thousands of entrepreneurs can do amazing and interesting things and take us into the next era.”
“We only need two things to be able to do it: reusability, and practice.”
On both of those fronts, Blue Origin has been making progress, launching and landing its New Shepard rocket multiple times in recent months. Of course, Bezos’ company isn’t the only one pursuing this mission, with Elon Musk’s SpaceX most recently landing its Falcon 9 rocket on a barge at sea after launching its latest mission to the International Space Station.
Boyle asked Bezos about the competitive landscape, and the Blue Origin founder acknowledged that “oftentimes, it’s very natural to think of business competition like a sporting event. At a sporting event there actually is a winner and a loser.”
But in business, he said, “it’s usually a little different than that. Great industries are usually built by not just one or two or three companies, but usually by dozens of companies. There can be many winners. … I think that’s what we’re headed toward here.”
“From my point of view, the more the merrier,” Bezos said. “I want Virgin Galactic to succeed, I want SpaceX to succeed, I want United Launch Alliance to succeed. … And of course I want Blue Origin to succeed. And I think they all can.”
We’ll have more from Alan Boyle’s interview with Jeff Bezos in follow-up posts.