Nearly a dozen Blue Origin employees, including executives and engineers, have left Jeff Bezos’ company in recent months amid intense competition among private space firms, FOX Business confirmed on Friday.
The prominent departures included Jeff Ashby, a former NASA astronaut who served as Blue Origin’s chief of mission assurance, Bob Ess, who was senior director of the "New Glenn" orbital launch vehicle program and Steve Bennett, senior vice president of the New Shepard suborbital launch program.
Several engineers involved in production and design of Blue Origin vessels, including engine propulsion, have also departed, with two taking jobs at rival companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX. In total, at least 11 executives, managers or engineers have left the company in recent months.
Some of the exits, including that of Ashby, occurred after Blue Origin completed its first manned spaceflight. In late July, Bezos and three other passengers completed a 10-minute suborbital flight in Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
CNBC was first to report on recent employee turnover at the firm.
Blue Origin pushed back on the notion that it was experiencing an exodus of top talent, asserting the employee turnover was normal given the industry’s competitive nature and pressures related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company said its senior leadership team is intact and touted hires made in the last several months, including former Honeywell executive Mike Eilola as its senior vice president of operations and Aerojet Rocketdyne alum Linda Cova as vice president for engines.
"Blue Origin grew by 850 people in 2020, and we have grown by another 650 so far in 2021," a Blue Origin spokesperson said in a statement. "In fact, we’ve grown by nearly a factor of four over the past three years. We continue to fill out major leadership roles in manufacturing, quality, engine design, and vehicle design. It’s a team we’re building and we have great talent."
Blue Origin paid out a $10,000 bonus to full-time employees on June 30. The company said the bonus was intended as a "thank you" celebrating Bezos’ successful launch, not as a retention bonus to entice employees to remain.
Blue Origin and SpaceX are locked in competition as NASA pursues a return to the Moon.
Earlier this week, Blue Origin sued NASA after it awarded a $3 billion lunar lander contract to Musk’s firm as part of its effort to reach the Moon by 2024. The lawsuit prompted NASA to temporarily table its work with SpaceX.