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AL.com is reporting that Blue Origin, the space launch company run by Amazon.com’s founder Jeff Bezos, intends to build a rocket engine factory in Huntsville, Alabama. The plant will manufacture 30 BE-4 engines per year for Blue Origin’s upcoming New Glenn rocket and United Launch Alliance rockets, the latter replacing Russian-made rocket engine. For various reasons, the move is considered shrewd from both a business and political perspective.

The business reasons

Huntsville, Alabama, is the site of NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center which specializes in rocket research and development. It is also the location of a number of commercial rocket engine and rocket manufacturer plants, including the upcoming consolidation of Aerojet Rocketdyne jobs in a new facility in Huntsville and the ULA rocket factory in nearby Decatur.

Besides being close to a potential customer, Blue Origin will have access to a trained workforce that is already living nearby and will be glad of the extra job opportunities

The political reasons

Almost as important and, in some ways, perhaps more important than the distinct business advantage of locating it in Huntsville, are the political considerations. Sen. Richard Shelby, a Republican, is the senior senator from Alabama and, owing to his chairmanship of the Senate Commerce Committee, has an out sized influence on how space policy is directed.

Shelby has become a kind of villain for new space advocates because of his support for the super heavy Space Launch System, now under development by NASA to be the workhorse of the space agency’s planned deep space exploration program. Because the SLS, unlike commercial rockets such as the Falcon Heavy and the New Glenn, is entirely expendable, it is considered expensive to build and operate by comparison.

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A lot of commercial space supporters would just as soon see the SLS scrapped in favor of the reusable, commercial rockets. Shelby, who has a lot of aerospace companies on his contributor’s list and space workers as constituents, is not likely to allow such a move.

Making Richard Shelby a friend of New Space

Bezos, rather than railing against Shelby as his foe, has decided to make him his friend. Now, his company and his workers will be among those that Shelby will protect in the Senate. That factor will provide a much needed competitive advantage against his chief commercial space rival, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, something Bezos dearly needs right now. SpaceX is astonishing the world by landing the first stage of its Falcon 9 and upping its flight tempo. The New Glenn is not even scheduled to start flight testing before 2020. When that rocket does fly, it will compete directly with the SpaceX Falcon Heavy and the ULA Vulcan.