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Jeff Bezos says Blue Origin’s next CEO will be bringing a sense of urgency to rocketry



Amazon executives Dave Limp, Jay Carney and Jeff Bezos talk with reporters at the Amazon Spheres during a 2019 press reception. Carney now works for Airbnb, while Limp will go to work for Bezos in a new capacity, as CEO of the billionaire’s Blue Origin space venture. (GeekWire Photo / Todd Bishop)

Jeff Bezos’ selection of Amazon devices chief Dave Limp as the next CEO of his Blue Origin space venture could well mark the start of a speed-up in the company’s tortoise-like pace.

For years, Bezos has sent out vibes that it might be OK to take it slow in the space race with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. He’d probably deny that’s the case, but it’s a fact that Blue Origin’s mascot is the tortoise rather than the hare in the tale from Aesop’s Fables, and that the company’s motto is “Gradatim Ferociter” — Latin for “Step by Step, Ferociously.” When it comes to space development, Bezos’ favorite sayings include “Slow Is Smooth, and Smooth Is Fast” and “We Don’t Skip Steps.”

Some in the space business would argue that going slow has put Blue Origin so far behind SpaceX that it’ll be difficult if not impossible to catch up. SpaceX has been successfully putting commercial payloads in orbit since 2009, started sending NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in 2020, and is gearing up for a milestone orbital test flight of its Starship and Super Heavy launch system.

Meanwhile, Blue Origin’s orbital-class New Glenn rocket hasn’t yet gotten off the ground, seven years after Bezos unveiled the design for the rocket and said it would be flying by 2020. New Glenn’s first flight is now expected to take place next year.

Bezos’ ambitions to help America get back to the moon took a big hit in 2021 when NASA awarded the contract for the Artemis program’s first crewed lunar lander to SpaceX instead. After two years of legal wrangling and political lobbying, Blue Origin and its commercial partners won a follow-up contract for an alternate lunar landing system — but that lander isn’t due to start carrying astronauts until 2029.

Blue Origin’s most visible progress to date has been on the suborbital space front: The company’s New Shepard suborbital rocket ship has flown almost two dozen times, and has carried 31 people to space so far. Nevertheless, there have been setbacks: New Shepard suffered an in-flight anomaly during an uncrewed research flight last September, forcing a suspension of its launch program.


In the year since then, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic venture has flown 13 people on suborbital space trips, while Blue Origin has made zero flights. Blue Origin is still waiting on the Federal Aviation Administration’s go-ahead to resume its New Shepard flight program, which will start out with at least one uncrewed test flight before returning to crewed suborbital trips.

Critics have suggested that Blue Origin’s pace may reflect the mindset of the company’s outgoing CEO, Bob Smith, whose decades of aerospace experience were spent mostly at traditional “old-space” companies including Honeywell, United Space Alliance and The Aerospace Corp.

Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith
Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith addresses a crowd of VIPs and employees at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the company’s new headquarters in Kent, Wash., in 2020. A mockup of Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander stands in the background. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

In a widely reported email that was sent to Blue Origin’s staff on Monday, Bezos praised Smith’s role in ramping up the Kent, Wash.-based company’s presence during his six-year stint as CEO.

“Under Bob’s leadership, Blue has grown to several billion dollars in sales orders, with a substantial backlog for our vehicles and engines,” Bezos wrote. “Our team has increased from 850 people when Bob joined to more than 10,000 today. We’ve expanded from one office in Kent to building a launch pad at LC-36 and five million square feet of facilities across seven states.”

But Bezos also hinted that Blue Origin won’t be playing the role of the tortoise when Dave Limp takes charge on Dec. 4.

“Dave has an outstanding sense of urgency, brings energy to everything, and helps teams move very fast,” Bezos wrote. “Through this transition, I know we’ll remain focused on our customer commitments, production schedules, and executing with speed and operational excellence.”

As Amazon’s senior vice president for devices and services, Limp oversaw the development of the Alexa voice assistant and its associated Echo hardware, as well as the Kindle e-book, Kindle Fire tablet and Fire TV devices. He also played leading roles in the integration of Zoox, a self-driving car company acquired by Amazon in 2020, and in the ramp-up for Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite network.


Last year, his division felt the brunt of a round of layoffs at Amazon. “It pains me to have to deliver this news, as we know we will lose talented Amazonians from the Devices & Services org as a result,” he said in a memo posted to Amazon’s blog at the time.

Limp announced his departure from Amazon last month, saying that he wanted to “look into the future through a different lens” — but until this week it wasn’t clear what his future plans would be.

Although his background is in consumer electronics rather than space hardware, Limp has become more familiar with the business over the past four years, thanks to his involvement with Project Kuiper. And he’s sure to be familiar with Bezos’ mindset after working under him at Amazon for more than a decade. (Bezos stepped down from his CEO post at Amazon in 2021, but remains involved with the company as executive chairman.)

“Jeff loves space, I love space,” Limp said in a CNBC interview at Project Kuiper’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash.

Last year, Limp hinted during an online chat that his experience in consumer electronics could carry over to the space industry. As he discussed Project Kuiper’s need to meet an ambitious satellite deployment schedule, he said “we have to build the manufacturing capabilities that look more like consumer electronics or automobiles, and less like the traditional space industry.”

Now Limp has an opportunity to bring that mindset to an honest-to-goodness space company owned by his longtime boss. “Lots to learn, but very excited!” he said in LinkedIn post.


Source: Geek Wire

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