Ex-Amazon’s David Limp Might Boost Blue Origin’s Slow Progress


After Bob Smith’s resignation as chief executive, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin has appointed David Limp, Amazon’s former head of hardware and leader of the company’s Project Kuiper satellites, as the new CEO.

In an email sent to employees on Monday, Smith announced that he is resigning from his position as chief executive of Blue Origin. Smith will officially step down in December, but will remain with the company until early January to support the transition to his successor, CNBC reported. It was then revealed that Smith’s successor would be Limp, who resigned from his position as head of devices and services at Amazon, another Bezos-owned company, last month.

“We’ve rapidly scaled this company from its prototyping and research roots to a large, prominent space business,” Smith wrote in his resignation announcement. “We have the right strategy, a supremely talented team, a robust customer base, and some of the most technically ambitious and exciting projects in the entire industry.”

Smith remained at the helm of Blue Origin for six years, during which the private space company has grown from having just 1,500 employees to 11,000 people today, and built up its infrastructure across the country. Blue Origin, however, has struggled to get some of its most promising projects off the ground. Although it was once poised to rival Elon Musk’s own space venture, Blue Origin is yet to reach orbit once while SpaceX has launched 66 rockets to orbit this year alone.

The company enjoyed some success with its suborbital space tourism trips before its New Shepard rocket suffered a launch failure in September 2022 and has remained grounded ever since. Its heavy-lift rocket New Glenn, which is designed to reach orbit, has fallen years behind schedule since its announcement in 2014. The rocket uses seven of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engines, whose development delays have been a significant factor in postponing its inaugural flight. During a test firing in late June, Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine exploded at the company’s West Texas facility.

It appears that Smith was not all that popular with Blue Origin’s employees, some of whom had spoken to Ars Technica’s Eric Berger, and “virtually none of them have had anything positive to say about Smith’s tenure as chief executive,” he wrote. Berger asked one employee about the new hire at Blue Origin, to which they responded by saying, “Anything is better than Bob.”

“Smith brought a traditional aerospace mindset into a company that had hitherto been guided by a new space vision, leading to a high turnover rate,” Berger wrote. “As Blue Origin meandered under Smith’s tenure, SpaceX soared, launching hundreds of rockets and thousands of satellites. Smith, clearly, was not the leader Blue Origin needed to make the company more competitive with SpaceX in launch and other spaceflight activities.”

Earlier this year, Blue Origin did score a $3.4 billion contract from NASA to build a second lunar landing system for Artemis 5 and beyond. The company had lost its previous bid to build the lander for Artemis 3 and 4, with NASA awarding those contracts to SpaceX instead. In 2021, Bezos unsuccessfully sued NASA over the agency’s decision to grant the first contract to SpaceX.

Amazon’s Project Kuiper, a constellation of internet satellites meant to rival SpaceX’s Starlink, is still waiting to reach to orbit after awarding three contracts worth around $1.7 billion to Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, and Arianespace to launch most of the 3,236-satellites to low Earth orbit. An Amazon shareholder recently filed a lawsuit against the company for exercising bad judgment when selecting the launch providers for Project Kuiper, pointing out that Bezos’ company purposely avoided granting a contract to his rival Musk.

During his 13 years at Amazon, Blue Origin’s upcoming chief executive had some experience managing Project Kuiper, while also being in charge of the company’s consumer electronic devices like the Alexa voice assistant. “I’ve worked closely with Dave for many years. He is the right leader at the right time for Blue,” Bezos wrote in an email shortly after Smith’s retirement announcement, according to SpaceNews. “Dave is a proven innovator with a customer-first mindset and extensive experience leading and scaling large, complex organizations. Dave has an outstanding sense of urgency, brings energy to everything, and helps teams move very fast.”

Limp certainly has his work cut out for him as the new chief executive of Blue Origin, and that sense of urgency will need to kick into high gear.

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