Blue Origin wants to start flying customers to space by 2018.
During a first-ever tour of the company’s Kent, Washington headquarters, Jeff Bezos told a small group of reporters on Tuesday that the private spaceflight company he founded was looking to break into space tourism very soon, now that the New Shepard spacecraft he’s built has been proven reusable.
According to The New York Times, paying tourists — as many as six at a time — could start taking short trips out to suborbital space and experience weightlessness for a few minutes at a time.
In order to make that possible, however, the company needs to have a successful 2017 — when the plans to start conducting piloted test flights. Later this year, Blue Origin will start testing its new engine, the BE-4 — with which United Launch Alliance hopes to replace Russian-made engines and allow U.S. companies to operate independently of Russia.
The announcement is a surprise, but it’s not totally unexpected. Quite a few other spaceflight companies are pursuing a focus in space tourism — most notably Virgin Galactic. Although founded in 2000, Blue Origin made a splash last year when it conducted a surprise launch of the New Shepard rocket.
Blue Origin followed up later in the year with the first-ever vertical landing (see above) of New Shepard — a milestone thought to be essential in making reusable rockets a reality and bringing down the cost of space exploration significantly.
“What I know you cannot afford is throwing the hardware away,” Bezos told reporters Tuesday. Mere months later, Bezos and company repeated the same feat this past January. “Launch. Land. Repeat.” was the title of a video uploaded about the second successful landing, an indicator of Blue Origin’s collective confidence (nonchalance?) about its progress.
Blue Origin scooped SpaceX of this achievement and began something of a beef with SpaceX founder Elon Musk. At Tuesday’s tour, Bezos appeared to throw some subtle shade over at SpaceX once again, saying ”Space is really easy to overhype.” While that’s definitely true, Blue Origin is certainly not looking to quell the excitement surrounding their own activities.