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The new rocket from Jeff Bezos' space company has its first customer

The new rocket from Jeff Bezos' space company has its first customer
A rendering of Blue Origin's planned New Glenn rocket alongside rockets built by other makers. (Blue Origin)

French satellite operator Eutelsat will be the first commercial customer for Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket, the two companies announced Tuesday.

Eutelsat said it will launch a satellite on the rocket sometime in 2021 or 2022. New Glenn, it said, is still being developed and is expected to start flying in 2020.

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Blue Origin — a space firm based in Kent, Wash., owned by Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos — began to approach customers a few months ago, Bezos said Tuesday in a keynote speech at the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington, D.C.

"It's really a great partnership," he said of the contract with Eutelsat. "The whole thing is very exciting."

Blue Origin unveiled details about its New Glenn rocket in September. The rocket is to come in two variants: a two-stage version that will be 270 feet tall and carry payloads into e used to reach low-Earth orbit, and a three-stage, 313-foot-tall version that will be capable of launching satellites and astronauts into higher orbits and beyond.

The first stage of the rocket is designed to be reusable, returning to Earth and landing upright after separating from the second stage.

The New Glenn, named after astronaut John Glenn, is expected to compete with SpaceX's heavy-lift Falcon Heavy rocket, which is set to launch for the first time this summer.

Eutelsat Chief Executive Rodolphe Belmer said the company was convinced that Blue Origin had the "right mind-set to compete in the launch service industry."

"In including New Glenn in our manifest we are pursuing our longstanding strategy of innovation that drives down the cost of access to space and drives up performance," he said in a statement.

Blue Origin has also been testing its New Shepard reusable launch vehicle, which is designed to take paying tourists into suborbital space. It is named after astronaut Alan Shepard.

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