KENT, Wash. — Construction workers have raised the roof on a new headquarters and research-and-development facility for Blue Origin, the private space venture founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
For now, the roof protects a bare patch of concrete laid out on a 31-acre plot here in Kent, about 16 miles south of Seattle. But don’t be fooled by the spartan setting: Even on a Saturday, workers wearing hardhats were making progress on what’s expected eventually to become a 236,000-square-foot warehouse-style building and more than 100,000 square feet of office space.
Blue Origin purchased the site, on the opposite side of the street from the company’s existing 26-acre production facility and headquarters, from a longtime farming family in 2017 for $14.1 million. The company has also been using a 120,000-square-foot warehouse just up the street.
Bezos’ company dropped a hint or two about the construction site’s future role earlier this month in a tweet:
We’ve gone vertical with our new HQ and R&D facility in Kent, WA! We're continuing to add to our world-class team and excited for a large new facility that will support rapid growth. Thanks to Mayor @dana_ralph and @cityofkent as well as everyone involved with the construction. pic.twitter.com/SjUa8fEvpM
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) April 11, 2019
Blue Origin didn’t immediately respond to a request for further details, such as the total cost of the project or the timetable for completion, but we’ll update this report with anything we hear back. For what it’s worth, Kent building permits list Sierra Construction among the lead contractors for Blue Origin’s “Project Farmland,” although the work doesn’t show up among projects listed on Sierra’s website.
As noted on Twitter, Blue Origin is dealing with rapid expansion: As of last summer, the company’s workforce was estimated at more than 1,500, and Reuters quoted an unnamed source as saying that number could double over the next couple of years. Nearly 500 job openings are currently listed on Blue Origin’s careers website. And nearly all of those jobs are based in Kent.
In addition to the Kent headquarters expansion, Blue Origin is gearing up for production of its orbital-class New Glenn rocket at its 750,000-square-foot factory in Florida, with the first liftoff from a nearby launch facility due as early as 2021. Just last month, the company acknowledged that the Florida factory site is due for its own expansion over the next year.
Blue Origin has also broken ground on a 200,000-square-foot rocket engine manufacturing facility in Huntsville, Ala. That factory will turn out BE-4 engines for the New Glenn as well as for United Launch Alliance’s next-generation, semi-reusable Vulcan rocket. This month, Blue Origin struck an additional deal with NASA to refurbish and use an engine test stand nearby at Marshall Space Flight Center.
In addition to the New Glenn and BE-4 projects, Blue Origin is testing a suborbital spaceship called New Shepard in West Texas, with an eye toward putting people on board starting later this year. There’s also a Blue Moon lunar lander project that’s expected to win more of the spotlight due to NASA’s accelerated schedule for missions to the moon.
The New Shepard spaceships and their hydrogen-fueled BE-3 rocket engines are being built in Kent and then shipped down to Texas for testing and launch. BE-4 engines will also be built in Kent and test-fired in Texas, at least until the Alabama factory comes online.
Based on everything that Bezos and his space venture are aiming to get done in the next couple of years, the Kent expansion project seems likely to proceed in line with Blue Origin’s motto: “Gradatim Ferociter,” which is Latin for “step-by-step, ferociously.”