Fri, Apr 07, 2017 - Page 10 News List

Amazon founder selling shares to fund rocket firm

Reuters, COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado

Amazon.com and Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos talks to reporters about the New Shepard rocket booster and crew capsule mockup at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on Wednesday.

Photo: Reuters

Amazon.com Inc founder Jeff Bezos on Wednesday said he is selling about US$1 billion worth of the Internet retailer’s stock annually to fund his Blue Origin LLC rocket company, which aims to launch paying passengers on 11-minute space rides starting next year.

Blue Origin had hoped to begin test flights with company pilots and engineers this year, but that probably will not happen until next year, Bezos told reporters at the annual US Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

“My business model right now ... for Blue Origin is I sell about US$1 billion of Amazon stock a year and I use it to invest in Blue Origin,” said Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon and the owner of the Washington Post newspaper.

Ultimately, the plan is for Blue Origin to become a profitable, self-sustaining enterprise, with a long-term goal to cut the cost of space flight so that millions of people can live and work off Earth, Bezos said.

Bezos is Amazon’s largest shareholder, with 80.9 million shares, according to Thomson Reuters data.

At Wednesday’s closing share price of US$909.28, Bezos would have to sell 1,099,771 shares to meet his pledge of selling US$1 billion worth of Amazon stock.

Bezos’ total Amazon holdings, representing a 16.95 percent stake in the company, are worth US$73.54 billion at Wednesday’s closing price.

For now, Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin is working toward far shorter hops — 11-minute space rides that are not fast enough to put a spaceship into orbit around Earth.

Blue Origin has not started selling tickets or set prices to ride aboard its six-passenger, gumdrop-shaped capsule, known as New Shepard.

The reusable rocket and capsule is designed to carry passengers to an altitude of more than 62km above the planet so they can experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of Earth set against the blackness of space.

Unmanned test flights have been under way since 2015.

At the symposium, Bezos showed off a mockup of the passenger capsule, which sports six reclined seats, each with its own large window. Also on display was a scorched New Shepard booster rocket that was retired in October last year after five flights.

Blue Origin is developing a second launch system to carry satellites, and eventually people, into orbit. Development costs for that system, known as New Glenn, will be about US$2.5 billion.

There is no estimate yet for how much Bezos will invest overall on Blue Origin, but Bezos has indicated he will spend what it takes.

“It’s a long road to get there and I’m happy to invest in it,” Bezos said.

According to Forbes magazine, Bezos has a net worth of US$78 billion.

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