Very wealthy bloke Jeff Bezos announced he would be spending billions on fighting climate change the same day his space rocket venture, Blue Origin, opened its Huntsville production facility.
The world's richest man – net worth $130bn – last month pledged a million Australian dollars to help deal with the country's ferocious bush fires, but the reaction to his generosity was less than positive.
Perhaps a little stung by the pile-on of people pointing out that, as a proportion of his wealth, a million bucks was measly, the cargo pants aficionado announced the creation of the Bezos Earth Fund (BEF) yesterday. The goal of the fund is to come up with innovative ways of dealing with the impact of climate change, and Bezos has committed $10bn to be issued as grants to deserving boffins and non-governmental organisations.
Saving the world WITH ROCKETS
The announcement came as doors opened on a facility dedicated to that most eco-friendly of endeavours – rockets. The Amazon CEO's Blue Origin outfit (a company dedicated to de-stressing the Earth by sending industry into orbit) is going to be spanking $200m on the Huntsville, Alabama, production facility to manufacture the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen-powered BE-3U and liquid oxygen and liquified natural gas-powered BE-4 engines.
The engines will be given a workout on Test Stand 4670 at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, which was used in the Shuttle era, having been originally built for Saturn V propulsion testing in 1965. It has stood idle since 1998 until Bezos' crew signed an agreement to use the old thing last year.
That probably counts as recycling of a sort, right? And the fuel used by Bezos' engines isn't quite as horrid as some of the other go-juice found in the rocket industry, although the generation of the many, many megawatts of power needed to create and store liquid oxygen and hydrogen might not sit too well with the recipients of BEF grants. Presumably there are some big windmills involved or a substantial solar farm.
While the BE-3-powered New Shepard sub-orbital launcher has notched up 12 flights (and 11 successful landings), the New Glenn, which will use the seven BE-4 power plants, has yet to lift off. $2.5bn has been poured into the project so far, which might finally fly in late 2021.
Though the New Shepard has demonstrated its reusability (aside from the first booster, which memorably smeared itself over the secretive company's West Texas facility), only the first stage of the New Glenn will be capable of landing. The second stage will be expended.
Still, its environmental credentials compare well to that of the SLS, the core stage of which is being developed by Boeing for NASA. That monster rocket is notable for taking reusable Space Shuttle Main Engines and turning them into one-hit wonders destined for the ocean.
We look forward to seeing what Bezos decides to spend his billions on next. We're sure that employees of Amazon's box-flinging unit, enjoying their generous salaries and luxurious working conditions, are equally intrigued. ®