Blue Origin, the private space travel company founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, plans to begin its first piloted test flights next year and aims to send its first paying passengers to space as soon as 2018. Bezos made the announcement Tuesday, while speaking to reporters during a tour of the company’s research and development site outside Seattle.
Blue Origin has successfully launched and landed its flagship rocket, named New Shepard, twice — most recently in January. The company is competing with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to develop reusable rockets, and has, in the process, kicked off what has been called the “Space Race 2.0.”
Although the company was founded in 2000, it captured the limelight only last year, when Bezos announced it would set up shop at Florida’s Cape Canaveral air force base, where it will build and launch rockets into orbit “later this decade.”
SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance — a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing — are already using nearby launching pads at Cape Canaveral.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Bezos said that if further tests on the New Shepard rocket proceed without a hitch, paying tourists, up to six at a time, might start making short trips, experiencing a few minutes of weightlessness in space as soon as 2018.
In addition to space tourism, Blue Origin also plans to make money through sale of rocket engines to other companies — such as the United Launch Alliance — planning to launch satellites and spaceships, Bezos reportedly said. Before the end of this year, Blue Origin is planning to begin tests on its BE-4 rocket engine, which the company claims would end dependence on Russian-made engines.