Blue Origin’s manufacturing facility in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Michael Sheetz | CNBC
Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin told its workforce on Friday that it will not be laying off employees during the coronavirus crisis and instead plans to continue hiring.
Blue Origin management was quoted by The Verge on Thursday as saying workers in Texas may “lose their jobs … because of our actions” if employees in Washington state refused to travel to help conduct a test launch of the company’s space tourism rocket New Shepard.
The possibility of launching on April 10 was considered as the company is exempt from stay-at-home orders, due to the Pentagon declaring Blue Origin “mission essential” due to its national security contracts.
“What happens to the technicians down there that operate the vehicle who no longer then have jobs?” a Blue Origin senior director said according to The Verge.
But CEO Bob Smith said Friday in an email seen by CNBC that the company would not be letting employees go if New Shepard’s next flight is postponed.
“Blue Origin is unique and in a very fortunate position. We will not be having layoffs, but in fact, we will be hiring. We will not be making budget, payroll or benefit cuts based on this crisis,” Smith wrote in the email.
Bezos, the company’s founder, has previously said that he sells about $1 billion of Amazon stock each year to fund Blue Origin – although he recently cashed out of nearly $4.1 billion worth, suggesting that annual amount has increased. Blue Origin had about 2,500 employees at the end of last year and plans to grow that workforce total by a third this year.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket booster lands after its eleventh successful mission.
Smith noted in the email that, while the company had wanted to launch New Shepard in late January or early February, the quickly developing crisis means Blue Origin is no longer targeting a launch date. Smith has said previously that New Shepard will require about three or four more test flights before it launches people.
“We are still working through testing and flight rationale,” Smith said. “We, as usual, are conducting the same methodical approach to fly New Shepard and will only fly when we know it is safe.”
The company’s facility in West Texas continues to operate, Smith added in the email, as it is also nearly daily tests its BE-3 and BE-4 rocket engines. But, in addition to other travel restrictions, Blue Origin is “minimizing the number of people” needed to travel to the facility, Smith said.
Read the Verge’s full report here.
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