Oct 15, 2011 3:17 PM GMT
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Blue Origin, the aerospace company led by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, is the most secretive of the big private space companies. But through accident reports, patent applications, and the trickle of information from the company itself, we can start to get a picture of just what the heck Bezos is building.
On August 24, a mysterious flight test in the west Texas desert ended in an explosion. On a huge parcel of land that Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos owns, his aerospace company, Blue Origin, tried to launch its latest creation. The rocket was traveling mach 1.2, or roughly 800 mph, when it experienced "flight instability" at 45,000 feet and the engines shut down.
Despite the fiery finale, Blue Origin’s launch failure didn’t appear in the national press until nine days later, when Forbes finally reported it. And that’s typical for Bezos. Blue Origin is one of the several companies vying to be the future carrier for NASA astronauts headed to the International Space Station, but it’s by far the most secretive—the organization is tight-lipped almost to the point of paranoia. The company wasn’t announced until three years after being founded, and rarely says anything publicly. "It’s simply the way they choose to conduct business," Blue Origin representative Bruce Hicks wrote in an email to Popular Mechanics; the company declined our attempt for an interview.
Yet, Blue Origin may not be able to keep its activities under wraps for much longer, according to one aerospace executive who spoke to PM on the condition of anonymity. Blue Origin received $3.7 million in 2009 from NASA to develop a crew-carrying capsule, and another $22 million is on the way. "I get why they’re so secretive. It’s a competitive business environment. But we’ll ultimately see them open up a little bit. They’re taking public money, so they’ll have to at some point."
Not waiting around for that day to come, we dug around for information about Bezos’ project. Here’s what we found out about Blue Origin's creations—and how local law enforcement feels when you don't tell them you're going to launch a rocket.