Blue Origin Loses Key Staff, Amid NASA Contract Battle – Report

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Blue Origin's New Shepard space vehicle. Image credit: Blue Origin

In the weeks after Jeff Bezos went to space and a battle with NASA, Blue Origin lost more than a dozen key leaders and top engineers

Jeff Bezos’s space venture, Blue Origin, is reportedly contending with the departure of more than a dozen key leaders and top engineers.

According to a report by CNBC, most of the key personnel left Blue Origin in the weeks after founder Jeff Bezos’ spaceflight on 20 July.

The departures are despite the space venture reportedly giving all its full-time employees a $10,000, no-strings-attached cash bonus.

Staff departures

The loss of ‘top talent’ at Blue Origin includes at least 17 key leaders and senior engineers, with some joining rival space companies including Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Firefly Aerospace.

Each unannounced departure was confirmed to CNBC by people familiar with the matter, the publication reported.

According to CNBC, those departures include:

  • New Shepard senior vice president Steve Bennett,
  • Chief of mission assurance Jeff Ashby (who retired),
  • National security sales director Scott Jacobs,
  • New Glenn senior director Bob Ess,
  • New Glenn first stage senior director Tod Byquist,
  • New Glenn senior finance manager Bill Scammell,
  • Senior manager of production testing Christopher Payne,
  • New Shepard technical project manager Nate Chapman,
  • Senior propulsion design engineer Dave Sanderson,
  • Senior HLS human factors engineer Rachel Forman,
  • BE-4 controller lead integration and testing engineer Jack Nelson,
  • New Shepard lead avionics software engineer Huong Vo,
  • BE-7 avionics hardware engineer Aaron Wang,
  • Propulsion engineer Rex Gu,
  • Rocket engine development engineer Gerry Hudak.

It is reported that those who left Blue Origin did not specify the reasons why, but frustration with management and a slow, bureaucratic structure is apparently often cited in employee reviews on job site Glassdoor.

That said, a company spokesperson emphasised Blue Origin’s growth in a statement to CNBC.

“Blue Origin grew by 850 people in 2020 and we have grown by another 650 so far in 2021. In fact, we’ve grown by nearly a factor of four over the past three years,” the spokesperson reportedly said.

“We continue to fill out major leadership roles in manufacturing, quality, engine design, and vehicle design. It’s a team we’re building and we have great talent.”

NASA contract

It is reported that some of the engineers who left were part of Blue Origin’s astronaut lunar lander program.

And Blue Origin is engaged in a bitter fight with NASA over the decision to award a key contract to rival SpaceX.

In April, the NASA had awarded Elon Musk’s SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to build the Artemis lunar lander to carry humans to the moon, as early as 2024.

The American space agency had intended to have at least two private-sector companies compete to build the spacecraft that will ferry astronauts and equipment to the lunar surface for the space agency’s Artemis moon landing missions.

NASA’s announcement in early April that it would move forward with SpaceX as the sole contractor for the project surprised some, but the space agency cited costs as a primary reason for the decision, namely its own funding shortfalls, and SpaceX’s proven record of orbital missions.

NASA lawsuit

NASA’s decision to award the contract to SpaceX triggered a formal protest from Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin, filed with the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Jeff Bezos in July offered to personally cover up to $2bn in NASA costs if the agency also offered it a lunar lander contract.

Blue Origin essentially offered to waive payments of up to $2bn and pay for an orbital mission to test its technology, as well as covering any system development cost overruns.

But on 2 August 2020, the GAO rejected Blue Origin’s challenge of NASA’s $2.9 billion (£2bn) lunar lander contract deal with Space X.

The GAO also rejected a similar protest from military contractor Dynetics.

Last week Blue Origin filed a lawsuit in federal court against NASA, as part of its ongoing allegation that the US space agency wrongly awarded a lucrative contract solely to SpaceX earlier this year.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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