By: Alan Boyle

For the Full Story:

Work is progressing on the facility in Florida where Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture plans to build its orbital spaceships.

Bezos called attention to the groundbreaking milestone for the 750,000-square-foot rocket factory in June. Today, Space Florida, the state development agency that’s leasing the property and Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 36 to Blue Origin, tweeted that concrete is being poured for the campus’ first building.

The $200 million manufacturing and launch facility at Kennedy Space Center’s Exploration Park is expected to open by early 2018 and employ about 300 people.

That’s in addition to the folks who work at Blue Origin’s headquarters and production facility in Kent, Wash., and at its suborbital launch complex in West Texas. The company says it has about 700 employees today.

Blue Origin is currently focusing on its suborbital space effort. So far it’s conducted four fully successful uncrewed tests of its reusable, hydrogen-fueled New Shepard spaceship, which is built in Kent and flown in Texas.

If the test program proceeds according to plan, Bezos says test flights with crew members could begin next year, with paying passengers climbing aboard in 2018. The price for a suborbital flight has not yet been set.

The Florida facility will be devoted to orbital operations, involving a spacecraft currently known as “Very Big Brother.” The orbital craft could eventually be offered to NASA as a transport ship for cargo or astronauts flying to and from the International Space Station. It could take on other missions as well.

Blue Origin is also in the midst of developing its BE-4 rocket engine, fueled by liquefied natural gas, for use on its own orbital rocket as well as on United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket. By all reports, work on the BE-4 is proceeding apace in Kent. Eventually, Blue Origin will have to decide whether the BE-4 will be mass-produced in Kent, in Florida or someplace else.