Jeff Bezos might have felt triumphant when he rocketed toward the edge of space last month, but apparently the same can’t be said about other employees at Blue Origin. On Friday, CNBC was first to report that over a dozen engineers had left Bezos’s company in recent weeks, with some departing for high-ranking roles at rival spaceflight outfits.
Among the major names that departed Blue Origin were Nitin Arora—the lead engineer on Blue Origin’s lunar lander program—and Lauren Lyons, who announced earlier this month that she’d taken on a role as the Chief Operating Officer at Firefly Aerospace. Arora, meanwhile, said in a LinkedIn post last week that he’d taken a role at SpaceX. Fox Business confirmed that other prominent exits from the company included ex-NASA astronaut Jeff Ashby, along with Steve Bennet, who helped helm the New Shepard launch program.
Bezos’s company recently lost out to SpaceX for a key NASA contract to develop a lunar lander for the Artemis program, a decision over which Blue Origin is now suing. Earlier this year, NASA backtracked on initial plans to award multiple companies with development contracts for the agency’s Human Landing System (HLS) program, instead awarding $2.9 billion in funding solely to SpaceX. Before last week’s lawsuit, Bezos had written an open letter to NASA administrator Bill Nelson, saying that his company would cover billions in costs if they could have a piece of the contract.
A Blue Origin spokesperson told CNBC that, in spite of the turnover, the company was growing at a rapid pace, adding 850 people to its headcount in 2020 alone and adding another 650 so far this year. “We continue to fill out major leadership roles in manufacturing, quality, engine design, and vehicle design,” they said. “It’s a team we’re building and we have great talent.”
Still, these high-profile departures are a good reminder that the business of space can be a hard one to break into, even for the billionaire founder of Amazon. We saw as much late last year when Blue Origins chief operating officer exited the company, on the heels of multiple missed government contracts and a flurry of development delays. Maybe if Bezos put more effort into holding the company together and less into his cowboy cosplay, Blue Origin would be in better shape than it is today.