Last year, Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin made headlines when it became the first private organization to send a rocket into space and return it safely to the ground, its unmanned New Shepard vehicle, stoking a healthy rivalry with Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Now, Bezos has revealed that his company plans to start launching humans next year – the same year Musk is vying for the same goal.
No private company has ever sent humans to space on a vertical rocket (although SpaceShipOne achieved the feat witth a space plane), so whoever makes the inaugural flight will have the honor of being the first. Blue Origin is famously secretive about its intentions, so this latest revelation comes a bit out of the blue.
Bezos revealed that Blue Origin was preparing for human flights in 2017 in a press tour of his company this week, reported the Associated Press, during which he also said they would endeavor to be more open about their goals in future.
“We’ll probably fly test pilots in 2017, and if we’re successful then I’d imagine putting paying astronauts on in 2018,” Bezos said, reported Reuters.
Specific details were few and far between, though. No tickets are on sale for the flights yet, nor are there any details on how much they would cost. Perhaps a comparison can be made with Virgin Galactic, however, which is charging $250,000 for short hops to space on its SpaceShipTwo space plane beginning in the next couple of years.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle is a suborbital rocket, which means, like SpaceShipTwo, it simply “hops” above the atmosphere and gives its six passengers several minutes of weightlessness as it enters free fall, before it lands back on the ground. The company is apparently working on a version of New Shepard that has windows for the passengers to look out of.
But Bezos has grander plans for the future, recently suggesting in a blog post that a successor to New Shepard would be a full orbital vehicle. Ultimately, he wants to use his company to lower the cost of launches and open access to space, a vision shared by Elon Musk. Bezos, though, said during the press tour that competition wasn’t an issue; rather, there is room for many companies in the field.
Blue Origin is also working on rocket engines for the United Launch Alliance (ULA), an American conglomerate of aerospace companies, and while Bezos is self-funding the company at the moment, he hopes endeavors like this and space tourism can make it profitable in the near future.
We’ll have to wait and see what happens next year, but whatever does happen, there's no doubt that the private space race is well and truly hotting up.
Main image credit: Blue Origin/YouTube