After years of planning and billions of dollars being invested in the project, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was selected to be one of the first people to ride a rocket built by his other company, Blue Origin, to the outer reaches of the solar system. However, the event itself served as an opportunity for Bezos to promote a third investment in the larger Amazon portfolio: the electric vehicle startup Rivian.
Over the course of the broadcast, Bezos and his fellow astronauts were shuttled around in Rivian’s electric pickup truck and SUV, which was an unsurprising decision given that Amazon now owns more than 10% of the EV startup after leading and participating in multiple funding rounds. The hosts of Blue Origin’s livestream made certain to inform everyone else in the audience of what they were seeing as well.
Everything is an advertisement in commercial space.
“And now the astronauts have arrived. There you can see Jeff Bezos in the foreground, Oliver Daemen stepping into the Rivian,” Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of “astronaut and orbital sales,” said cheerfully during the broadcast as the group piled into one of the startup’s SUVs to head to the rocket for their trip to space. “There you can see Jeff Bezos in the foreground, Oliver Daemen stepping into the Rivian,” Cornell added. An aerial shot of the electric SUV driving toward the pad was then shown in two parts during an interview with Mercury 13 legend Wally Funk, followed by a long, continuous aerial shot of the SUV driving away from the pad.
As soon as the astronauts touched down safely an hour later, there they were again: a convoy of Rivian pickups and SUVs rumbling across the West Texas landscape, greeting the newly returned astronauts from space. (The electric vehicles were tucked in among a few other Ford pickup trucks and SUVs, which is also a shareholder in Rivian and owns more than 10% of it.)
The Rivians — who were most likely on loan, given the fact that their manufacturer plates were still on display — weren’t just there for the sake of the television broadcast, either. In the course of the launch, Blue Origin made use of the slide-out camping kitchen on a pair of Rivian pickups to prepare sausages and carne asada for guests — an optional feature that the startup has heavily promoted in the lead-up to production.
As a privately held company, Blue Origin’s first mission, like that of Virgin Galactic’s — which launched founder Richard Branson to the edge of space less than two weeks ago — had as much to do with promotion as it did with science or exploration. However, whereas Branson’s event had a festival feel to it, Blue Origin’s event was more in line with Bezos’ infamous calculation of the market. The event served as a platform for him to promote the projects on which he intends to focus his time now that he is no longer the CEO of Amazon, such as his space company and climate fund, and to throw a bone to the electric vehicle company into which Amazon has invested a significant amount of money. The absence of the delivery van Rivian is developing for Amazon was perhaps the most surprising aspect of the event.
Rivian already has a lot of money, but it is planning an initial public offering (IPO).
It’s not like Rivian, which recently announced that the first deliveries of its pickup truck and SUV will not take place until later this year, is in desperate need of the publicity. To date, the startup has raised more than $8 billion in funding from investors. Rivian has also already demonstrated that it is capable of developing its own effective cross-promotions. However, because Rivian is currently in the process of preparing for an initial public offering, it is possible that this demonstration of corporate synergy will play right into the hands of bankers.
The commercialization of the space industry has been underway for some time, but it has accelerated significantly in recent years as companies such as Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX have grown in sophistication. These corporations have set out to dominate everything from “boring” tasks such as cargo runs and science missions to more dangerous endeavours such as securing people inside spacecrafts, among other things. They’ve also realised the importance of the attention these missions draw from the public. Remember that before SpaceX launched the first humans into space from American soil last year, those astronauts also got to ride in a promotional vehicle to the rocket launch pad — in a Tesla Model X.