Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture agrees to buy Honeybee Robotics, a pioneer in rover hardware

Honeybee Robotics co-founder Steve Gorevan stands in front of a rover model that started out as an earthbound twin of NASA’s Curiosity rover and eventually became the Perseverance rover on Mars. (Honeybee Robotics Photo)

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture has struck a deal to acquire Honeybee Robotics, a trailblazer in the business of building specialized tools for space probes.

The deal with Honeybee’s parent organization, Ensign-Bickford Industries, is expected to close in mid-February. Financial terms were not disclosed. EBI has owned Honeybee since 2017.

Honeybee said it would become a wholly owned subsidiary of Bezos’ privately held company — which is headquartered in Kent, Wash. — but would continue with “business as usual,” with major operations based in Colorado and California.

Founded in 1983, Honeybee has delivered more than 1,000 advanced projects to customers in fields ranging from defense robotics and medical devices to mining and Mars exploration. It built the rock abrasion tools for NASA’s Opportunity and Spirit rovers on Mars, and the drills for the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers.

In the years ahead, Honeybee’s robotic sampling hardware is due to be flown to the moon in support of NASA’s Artemis program — and to Titan, a smog-covered moon of Saturn, as part of the Dragonfly mission.

“We’ve been building Honeybee’s capabilities and brand for almost 40 years,” company president Kiel Davis said in a news release. “Joining Blue Origin is a major step forward for us. … With Blue Origin we look forward to further expanding our capacity to meet the most exciting challenges in next-generation space transportation, space mobility, space destinations, and planetary science and exploration.”

In recent months, Blue Origin has been in the spotlight primarily because of its New Shepard suborbital space trips, but it’s also working on its orbital-class New Glenn rocket as well as a commercial space station and projects that target destinations beyond Earth orbit.

Last year, Blue Origin lost out to SpaceX in a competition for a multibillion-dollar lunar lander contract from NASA, but the company is continuing to work on its design in hopes of winning follow-up contracts. Honeybee has been developing the crane system for Blue Origin’s lander as a partner in the effort.

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If the deal goes through as expected, that partnership will be even closer as Blue Origin sets its sights on the moon and beyond.

“We’re beyond excited to welcome Honeybee Robotics to our team,” said Brent Sherwood, senior vice president of Advanced Development Programs for Blue Origin. “We know Honeybee’s leadership. We value the company’s brand, talent, unique expertise and product lines. And we know that together we will make bold things possible.” 

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