Blue Origin’s expansion plans rush ahead at its Seattle-area HQ — and in Los Angeles

Alan Boyle
A monolith adorned with Blue Origin’s feather logo stands at the construction site for a 400,000-square-foot office and warehouse-style facility in Kent, Wash. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

KENT, Wash. — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is rapidly expanding on several fronts, ranging from its headquarters facility south of Seattle to a new beachhead in the Los Angeles area — within the orbit of its main competitor, Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Just three and a half years ago, Blue Origin’s workforce amounted to 600 employees, and even then, Bezos said his company’s 300,000-square-foot office and production facility in Kent was “busting out of the seams.”

Now the employee count is at around 2,500, heading toward 3,500 in the next year. That’s according to a report from a Bangkok space conference quoting Clay Mowry, Blue Origin’s vice president for global sales, marketing and customer experience.

To be sure, there are lots of places to put those employees — including a rocket test facility nestled amid 165,000 acres of Bezos-owned ranch land in West Texas; a 750,000-square-foot New Glenn rocket factory in Florida, plus a leased launch complex and a servicing center; a 200,000-square-foot BE-4 engine factory in Alabama; and a business office in Arlington, Va.

Now you can add Los Angeles to the list: Blue Origin is ramping up a California propulsion system design and development operation in the L.A. area to support the teams in Kent, Texas and Alabama.

For now, the Engines Design Office accounts for only seven of the nearly 700 open positions at Blue Origin. Most of the openings for propulsion engineers (and other jobs, for that matter) are still at the Kent HQ. And the exact location for the L.A.-area office isn’t mentioned in the job listings or current California business filings. But the fact that there’ll be a California presence seems to serve as recognition of Southern California’s continuing importance as a locale for rocket development.

For what it’s worth, SpaceX’s headquarters is located in Hawthorne, Calif., just a few blocks beyond Los Angeles’ city limits. Virgin Orbit is headquartered down the road in Long Beach, Calif. And Relativity Space, which was founded in Seattle by Blue Origin alumni, now has its home base near Los Angeles International Airport.

We’ve reached out to Blue Origin for comment on their expansion plans, in L.A., Kent and elsewhere, and will update this report with anything we can pass along.

We also paid a visit to Kent last weekend to check in on the status of the 400,000-square-foot facility that’s being built across the street from the original campus.

The twin sloped-roof buildings are still nowhere near finished, but they’ve come a long way since our previous visit seven months ago. Both buildings appear to be fully enclosed, and a facade for the entrance doors is taking shape.

A black monolith emblazoned with Blue Origin’s logo has been erected at the entryway. I’m not sure if that’s an intentional tribute to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” but I wouldn’t put it past a guy who has the spaceship from “2001” as well as a Starship Enterprise model, a miniature “Silent Running” biodome and a Jules Verne rocket on display at his company’s headquarters.

There’s a duck pond behind the buildings, in keeping with Blue Origin’s pledge to restore wetlands on the property. And stripes have already been painted on the parking lot, with at least two spaces set aside for expectant mothers.

A view from the back side of Blue Origin’s newly erected buildings also shows the duck pond on the property. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)
The entryway facade for one of Blue Origin’s new buildings is still under construction. But the parking lot spaces have been painted, including two spaces for expectant mothers. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

In an April tweet, Bezos described the site as “our new HQ and R&D facility.” The paperwork that’s been filed with the City of Kent suggests that the facility will include more than 235,000 square feet of warehouse-style space (presumably for research and development) and more than 100,000 square feet of office space.

The 26-acre plot of land was purchased for $14.1 million in 2017, but Blue Origin hasn’t provided any figures on construction cost. Blue Origin’s 120,000-square-foot warehouse and shipping center is adjacent to the construction site, and by all appearances, that’s coming in for a lot of use as well.

What’ll be done at the expanded HQ? Kent is already the nerve center for much of what goes on at Blue Origin, including construction of the crew capsule, propulsion module and BE-3 rocket engines for the New Shepard suborbital spaceship.

New Shepard hardware is shipped to West Texas for testing, and Blue Origin is expected to transition from uncrewed to crewed test flights next year. A more precise time frame for that first crewed flight hasn’t yet been announced. “We want to be very careful about this,” Space Intel Report’s Peter B. de Selding quoted Mowry as saying last week.

For now, Kent is also the locale for building the more powerful BE-4 rocket engines that’ll be used on Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket. But the focus of that effort is expected to shift next year to Huntsville, Ala., once the factory that’s being built there is finished.

BE-4 engines would be shipped to Blue Origin’s facilities in Florida, for assembly at the New Glenn factory in Cape Canaveral and blastoff from Launch Complex 36.

The other big piece of Blue Origin’s plan for the future relates to its Blue Moon lunar landing system, which is being proposed for NASA’s use in the Artemis program to send astronauts to the moon’s south pole by 2024.

Blue Moon is the focus of Blue Origin’s advanced concepts team, which is based in Kent. Will Blue Moon be built in Kent as well? What else will all that R&D space be used for? It’ll be interesting to see how the future of space exploration beyond Earth orbit is shaping up just south of Seattle, for the second time in a half-century.

Related: Kent wins landmark status for Boeing’s moon buggies

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