Blue Origin is best known for its work developing suborbital and orbital reusable spacecraft (well, that, and its infamous secrecy about that work.) But the company at least once had interest in a different topic, according to an unusual source: planetary defense.
That’s the claim of the obituary of William Wright Kuhn, a mathematician and consultant who passed away last month. The obituary, published Tuesday in the Philadelphia Daily News, states that Kuhn worked as a consultant for Blue Origin from 1999 to 2006. (The start date is one year before the company was formally incorporated.) “His primary work was to help develop a sunlight-powered spacecraft whose purpose was to prevent asteroids or comets from hitting Earth,” the obituary claims, adding that, besides its space transportation work, Blue Origin “is also working on the problem of Earth being bombarded by astronomical drifters bent on destruction.”
“His expertise in math-physics was invaluable,” adds a separate obituary of Kuhn published by his funeral home in South Carolina. “In addition, using his technical and management skills, he was key in helping to identify and manage lines of promising research and the scientists performing the work.”
This appears to be the first time that Blue Origin has been publicly linked to any kind of planetary defense work. However, at least in the early years of the company, Blue Origin did cast a wide net in studying advanced technologies. In The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, the new book about the founder of Amazon.com and Blue Origin, author Brad Stone noted that, when he first wrote about the company for Newsweeek a decade ago (the first public account of Blue Origin), the company “was also funding forward-looking research into new propulsion systems, like wave rotors and rockets powered by ground-based lasers.” Spacecraft for planetary defense might also fit into that “forward-looking research” category.