Though it has so far been pitched most often as a space-tourism venture, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket company is now tackling a more mundane—and provably profitable—task: launching satellites. Blue Origin’s first client is France’s Eutelsat, which CNN reports has signed on to use space on Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket.
The agreement can be seen as a low-commitment declaration by Eutelsat, since it would use a rocket that is still in development. Announced last fall, the New Glenn is key to Blue Origin entering the satellite-launch market, but it is not expected to fly until 2020. Eutelsat’s new agreement has them launching a satellite with Blue Origin by 2022.
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Eutelsat has previously launched its communications satellites via Arianespace and SpaceX. Eutelsat was part of a consortium set to use the Amos-6 satellite destroyed in SpaceX’s launchpad explosion last September, perhaps giving the company motivation to help foster a more diverse commercial space sector.
The agreement is far more meaningful, though, for Bezos and Blue Origin, who are in a decidedly also-ran position in the commercial space sector. Blue Origin’s smaller rocket, the New Shepard, is intended to shuttle thrill-seeking passengers into low earth orbit. Bezos has said New Shepard could begin commercial flights by 2018, but tickets aren’t on sale yet, and the space-tourism business has started to look a little low-rent in the face of grand declarations about colonizing Mars from Elon Musk and SpaceX.
Blue Origin has also been entirely funded out of Bezos’ pocket so far, while SpaceX was just barely profitable for several years leading up to a June 2015 accident. By securing its first paying customer (at least nominally—we don’t know anything about payment terms) Blue Origin begins to look more like a serious company, and not just a pet project.