Blue Origin wants to follow up its three flights last year by blasting more than twice the number of people into space in 2022.
CEO Bob Smith said he expects to ‘easily double’ that figure this year, but if Blue Origin is to do that it would likely need to have a second New Shepard rocket available and to slash the turnaround time between flights.
The spacecraft has a capacity of six people, but of the missions in July, October and December last year only the latter was launched with every seat occupied.
Ambitious: Blue Origin reportedly wants to fly twice the number of people into space this year as it did in 2021. Jeff Bezos’ company has so far flown 14 people to space across three flights
Star Trek actor William Shatner (left) and Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos (right) are among those who have flown to space on New Shepard. Blue Origin would likely need to have a second rocket available for use if it wants to meet the target of doubling its flights in 2022
HOW JEFF BEZOS IS SPENDING BILLIONS OF HIS OWN MONEY TO BUILD BLUE ORIGIN AND WIN THE BILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE
Amazon founder and outgoing CEO Jeff Bezos entered the space sector in 2000, two years before SpaceX was formed by Elon Musk.
Based in Kent, Washington, it originally focused on sub-orbital spaceflight services, building cheaper, more reliable and reusable launch vehicles.
It is gradually moving from suborbital to orbital flight in an incremental way and launched humans to space for the first time in July last year.
Bezos was on that first crewed flight along with his brother Mark, pioneering female astronaut Wally Funk, 82, and 18-year-old physics student Oliver Daemen, whose father purchased his ticket.
The firm has so far given names to three launch vehicles, including the suborbital New Shepard rocket named after the first American in space, Alan Shepard.
It hopes to launch its heavy-lift New Glenn rocket, named for John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, at the end of 2022.
Bezos has also announced that the company is working on New Armstrong, after the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, although no details have yet been revealed.
Smith said the increase in launches will be enabled in part by a new vehicle that he said Blue Origin expects to bring into service this year.
Speaking during a presentation at the 24th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference last week, he added: ‘The market is robust. It’s very robust.
‘The challenge for Blue at this point is that we’re actually supply-limited. No business ever wants to be supply-limited when there’s robust demand,’ Smith said.
‘It’s incumbent on us to go build new vehicles, get them ready and safely go fly, and also safely get our launch cadence up.’
He would not say how many New Shepard launches would take place in 2022 but insisted that all crewed flights will have the maximum of six people on board.
Blue Origin has not yet revealed how much a seat on New Shepard costs, or how many people have paid and are waiting to be blasted into space.
However, Chinese cryptocurrency entrepreneur Justin Sun successfully bid $28 million (£20.5 million) to join the first crewed flight of New Shepard last July, only to have to pull out of that initial date.
He still plans to make the trip to space towards the end of 2022.
Blue Origin told SpaceNews that this auction provided a sense of how its rich customer base prices the value of a trip to space.
‘We’ve learned a lot of interesting things about the market over the past year,’ said Audrey Powers, vice-president of New Shepard flight and mission operations at Blue Origin, who also flew on New Shepard in October.
By comparison, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin’s big competitor in the space tourism business, has just reopened seat sales for $450,000 (£330,000).
This includes a $150,000 (£110,000) deposit to secure a spot in line to go to space — on a first come, first served basis.
Operating out of Spaceport America, near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, the firm plans to send its first paying customers to space before the end of this year.
Founder Sir Richard Branson flew to space last year as part of a test flight to show its horizontal take-off space plane, VSS Unity, and originally hoped to start commercial operations in the first quarter of this year.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard is made up of a rocket and nose cone with room for up to six passengers to travel up to 65 miles above the Earth
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic announced earlier this month that it would sell tickets at $450,000 apiece for a seat on the firm’s horizontal take-off space plane, VSS Unity (pictured)
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will charge customers $450,000 for a ticket
Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is charging customers £330,000 ($450,000) to fly to space.
The reopening of ticket sales earlier this month follows on from the success of last July’s crewed test flight, which saw Sir Richard Branson blast into space and beat his rival Jeff Bezos by nine days.
The $450,000 figure is almost double what the company was charging in 2014 before it suspended sales after the crash of its first space plane, VSS Enterprise.
About 600 people had tickets from the earlier round of sales.
It sold another 100 tickets last year.
Virgin Galactic has set a target of 1,000 reservations prior to the launch of its first commercial space flights at the end of 2022.
But in October Virgin Galactic announced it was entering an ‘enhancement period’ to make safety upgrades to its fleet, and pushed back a planned test flight with the Italian Air Force.
In doing so, this further delayed the start of its commercial space flights.
There are 700 ‘Future Astronauts’ currently on a waiting list to go up to 50 miles above the Earth, some of whom have been waiting more than a decade.
‘We plan to have our first 1,000 customers on board at the start of commercial service later this year, providing an incredibly strong foundation as we begin regular operations and scale our fleet,’ said CEO Michael Colglazier in a statement.
Virgin Galactic is also building the second of its space planes, which will each carry up to six tourists and two professional pilots.
In December last year, Bezos’ Blue Origin launched its third space tourism flight from Launch Site One in the West Texas town of Van Horn.
The seven-minute flight held six passengers, including retired American football player and Good Morning America co-host Michael Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley — the eldest daughter of Alan Shepard, who was the first American to fly to space.
The other four, who paid a high price for the experience, included space industry executive and philanthropist Dylan Taylor, investor Evan Dick, and Bess Ventures founder Lane Bess and Cameron Bess, who became the first parent-child duo to fly in space.
Two months earlier, Shatner, who is famed for his role as Captain Kirk in the 1960s sci-fi series Star Trek, became the oldest person in space at the age of 90.
He was joined by Chris Boshuizen, Glen de Vries and Audrey Powers.
The original manned flight in July 2021 saw Bezos and his brother Mark blast to space with pioneering female astronaut Wally Funk, 82, and 18-year-old physics student Oliver Daemen, whose father purchased his ticket.
THE BILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE: HOW BRANSON, MUSK AND BEZOS ARE VYING FOR GALACTIC SUPREMACY
Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin’s space capsule
Dubbed the ‘NewSpace’ set, Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk all say they were inspired by the first moon landing in 1969, when the US beat the Soviet Union in the space race, and there is no doubt how much it would mean to each of them to win the ‘new space race’.
Amazon founder Bezos had looked set to be the first of the three to fly to space, having announced plans to launch aboard his space company Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on July 20, but Branson beat him to the punch.
The British billionaire became Virgin Galactic Astronaut 001 when he made it to space on a suborbital flight nine days before Bezos – on July 11 in a test flight.
Bezos travelled to space on July 20 with his younger brother Mark, Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old physics student whose dad purchased his ticket, and pioneering female astronaut Wally Funk, 82.
Although SpaceX and Tesla founder Musk has said he wants to go into space, and even ‘die on Mars’, he has not said when he might blast into orbit – but has purchased a ticket with Virgin Galactic for a suborbital flight.
SpaceX became the first of the ‘space tourism’ operators to send a fully civilian crew into orbit, with the Inspiration4 mission funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman.
His flight was on a Dragon capsule and SpaceX rocket built by space-obsessed billionaire, Elon Musk and took off for the three day orbital trip on September 16 – going higher than the International Space Station.
SpaceX appears to be leading the way in the broader billionaire space race with numerous launches carrying NASA equipment to the ISS and partnerships to send tourists to space by 2021.
On February 6 2018, SpaceX sent rocket towards the orbit of Mars, 140 million miles away, with Musk’s own red Tesla roadster attached.
Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule
SpaceX has also taken two groups of astronauts to the |International Space Station, with crew from NASA, ESA and JAXA, the Japanese space agency.
SpaceX has been sending batches of 60 satellites into space to help form its Starlink network, which is already in beta and providing fast internet to rural areas.
Branson and Virgin Galactic are taking a different approach to conquering space. It has repeatedly, and successfully, conducted test flights of the Virgin Galactic’s Unity space plane.
The first took place in December 2018 and the latest on May 22, with the flight accelerating to more than 2,000 miles per hour (Mach 2.7).
More than 600 affluent customers to date, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have reserved a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space trips. The final tickets are expected to cost $350,000.
Branson has previously said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket firm SpaceX.
Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft
SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows – one to the side and one overhead.
The space ship is 60ft long with a 90inch diameter cabin allowing maximum room for the astronauts to float in zero gravity.
It climbs to 50,000ft before the rocket engine ignites. SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier craft, White Knight II, once it has passed the 50-mile mark.
Passengers become ‘astronauts’ when they reach the Karman line, the boundary of Earth’s atmosphere.
The spaceship will then make a suborbital journey with approximately six minutes of weightlessness, with the entire flight lasting approximately 1.5 hours.
Bezos revealed in April 2017 that he finances Blue Origin with around $1 billion (£720 million) of Amazon stock each year.
The system consists of a pressurised crew capsule atop a reusable ‘New Shepard’ booster rocket.
At its peak, the capsule reached 65 miles (104 kilometres), just above the official threshold for space and landed vertically seven minutes after liftoff.
Blue Origin are working on New Glenn, the next generation heavy lift rocket, that will compete with the SpaceX Falcon 9.