January 13, 2005 3:03 PM PST

Bezos offers glimpse into space project

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Blue Origin, the secretive space exploration company founded by Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, on Thursday quietly announced plans to build a testing facility on a remote ranch in western Texas.

The facility will be built on land owned by Bezos located north of Van Horn, Texas, a community with a population of 2,400 residents as of 2000. In its first public statement about its ambitions, Blue Origin said it plans to build a suborbital spacecraft that can launch and land vertically with three or more astronauts, according to a report in the local Van Horn Advocate newspaper.

Bezos has already assembled a team of veteran rocket scientists who have worked on various aerospace and missile defense projects. The company will first build basic facilities such as an engine test stand, fuel and water tanks and an office building, and then begin flight testing in six to seven years, the report said.

"Texas has been a long-standing leader in the aerospace industry, and we are very excited about the possibility of locating here," Bezos told the local paper.

A Blue Origin representative confirmed the accuracy of the report, but declined to elaborate further.

While Bezos' space interests have been known for years, this is the first time the Amazon founder has offered any indication as to Blue Origin's ambitions. Up to now, the company has maintained a bare-bones Web site simply containing a mission statement to "help enable an enduring human presence in space."

Bezos is not the only tech veteran shooting for the stars. Last September, a venture backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for privately funded space travel after it successfully launched and landed a manned suborbital spacecraft called SpaceShipOne.

At the end of February, the first rocket produced by SpaceX, started by PayPal founder Elon Musk, will launch and deploy a military satellite into orbit. John Carmack, founder of video game company ID Software, created Armadillo Aerospace in hopes of launching his own brand of rockets into outer space.

During a press conference earlier this week in Van Horn, Bezos told the Advocate that his choice of location was partially sentimental. As a kid, Bezos spent summers on his grandfather's ranch in south Texas. He said he hopes "to give my family the same experiences on my west Texas ranch now."

 

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