Blue Origin Blasts Off to Expansion Mode

Jeff Bezos’ company has stepped up its space game by picking up an upstart to expand even further.

Photo of United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur rocket
Photo via United Launch Alliance

Sign up for smart news, insights, and analysis on the biggest financial stories of the day.

Like the universe itself, Jeff Bezos’ appetite for commercial space flight is ever-expanding.

Blue Origin, Bezos’ space exploration company and personal vehicle for annoying Elon Musk, has bid to acquire SpaceX competitor United Launch Alliance (ULA), multiple sources told Bloomberg. Blue Origin returned to launching rockets at the end of last year after an unscheduled hiatus of 15 months. Bezos is coming back with a bang. 

Bezos’s Back, Alright

ULA was created by legacy aerospace heavyweights Lockheed Martin and Boeing in 2006, so it’s not exactly what you’d call a total upstart. It is, however, about to embark on a new adventure, with a plan to launch its much-delayed Vulcan Centaur rocket on Monday. All being well (which is far from guaranteed, it’s called rocket science for a reason) the 202-feet-tall rocket will carry a lunar lander on its nose from aerospace company Astrobotic.

The launch is what makes ULA — already a contractor for NASA and the US Defense Department — a bona fide SpaceX challenger. ULA’s CEO Tory Bruno is actively stoking the rivalry as well:

  • “SpaceX likes to say they have a monopoly,” Bruno told Bloomberg in an October interview, adding for good measure: “They don’t.”
  • Bruno also threw in that the ULA plans pricing for its launches to “be very competitive with SpaceX.” But he declined to say exactly how much the company was planning to charge.

This news comes at a mixed-emotions moment for SpaceX. On the one hand, it launched its first-ever cell phone service Starlink satellites in tandem with T-Mobile on Wednesday, a step forward as the venture seeks ways to keep breaking even, or heck, maybe even turn a profit. On the other hand, the National Labor Relations Board hit SpaceX with a lawsuit saying it illegally fired workers who publicly criticized the company and CEO Elon Musk. In a fun bit of legal tit-for-tat, SpaceX filed a lawsuit against the NLRB saying its structure is unconstitutional.

AI Race: While Bezos slips his billionaire space helmet back on his head, he’s also making moves in another technology arms race. Bezos joined VCs in backing a generative AI startup called Perplexity, which is styling itself as a Google search-killer. Why stop at a rivalry with Musk, after all?