Amazon, SpaceX Leaders Will Headline Major Air Force Conference

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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, left, unveils the new Blue Origin rocket, as Florida Gov. Rick Scott, right, applauds during a news conference at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack) -- The Associated Press

Two business executives leading space travel and technology advancements will speak at next week's Air Force Association conference, just months after the president announced plans to create a new military branch devoted to space operations.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos, who founded Blue Origin, the rocket and spaceflight company, will deliver the keynote address Wednesday, the final day of the conference. He will be joined by Gen. John "Jay" Raymond, head of Air Force Space Command.

AFA officials could not immediately be reached to discuss the speaker lineup or conference themes, but Bezos is expected to give his take on innovation in the space industry.

"[He] will offer perspective on the advancements of space and technology and how industry can better partner with the Air Force," retired Air Force Gen. Larry Spencer, AFA's president, said in a statement.

Also on the agenda is Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, which manufactures and launches rockets into space. Shotwell is scheduled to speak Monday, as the three-day conference kicks off.

With Trump administration officials saying an independent Space Force will be stood up as early as 2020, the conference lineup highlights the opportunity for partnership between the future military branch and private industry.

The Air Force has certified SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket to carry national security satellites into space after awarding the company a $130 million contract to do so. The service has also made property available for commercial space launch activities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Both SpaceX and Blue Origin have focused on creating reusable spacecraft. They also want to give regular people access to space and speed up travel on Earth.

Bezos has called his work on space travel at Blue Origin "the most important" he's doing.

The AFA conference, which saw nearly 10,000 attendees last year, will focus on multi-domain operations. In addition to challenges and opportunities that will arise in space, panels and demonstrations will address future air and cyber missions and improving the acquisition process.

Top service leaders -- including Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson; Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein; and Chief Master Sgt. Kaleth Wright, chief master sergeant of the Air Force -- are also expected to address the crowd.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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