What once seemed like the stuff of sci-fi films, now may becoming a reality for the richest man in the world, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Jeff Bezos’ company for space exploration, Blue Origin, may soon be launching trips into space as soon as next year. Employees of the company leaked these week to Reuters that the space trip cost may come in at around $200,000 to $300,000 for commercial passengers.
Blue Origin Space Trip Cost
Bezos has had his eye on space tourism since it still seemed like a joke or an episode of the Jetsons. His company, Blue Origin, was founded all the way back in 2000 to develop technology that would allow private citizens to explore space. While many naysayers pointed out the exorbitant costs of commercial space exploration and the dangers for passengers, thrill seekers, entrepreneurs, and wannabe space explorers have long been wondering what the space trip cost would be and whether they could afford it.
Blue Origin executives speaking at a business conference last month said they would soon begin passenger test runs on their rocket, the New Shepard, but wouldn’t begin selling tickets until next year. Following the announcement, there was much speculation over the space trip cost. Space tourism is a new concept to this planet, but investors worried there would not be a high enough demand for private space exploration.
Information leaked this week from Jeff Bezos’ company indicated that tickets would be at least $200,000, according to one anonymous employee. Another employee, speaking under the condition of anonymity, told Reuters the tickets would initially cost somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000.
Even at more than $200,000 per ticket, most industry insiders do not believe commercial space exploration is going to be turning a profit anytime soon. Marco Caceres, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group, claims each flight would cost Blue Origin $10 million dollars. With only six passengers on board, that would mean Blue Origin plans on losing millions of dollars for each launch. Blue Origin has not revealed their calculations for the cost of each launch.
The New Shepard
The New Shepard will not be taking passengers to the moon anytime soon. It is designed to take six passengers 62 miles (100 km) above earth into sub-orbital space. This will be high enough for passengers to feel weightlessness and observe the curvature of the planet through six observation windows. After a few minutes of weightlessness, the passenger capsule will detach from the rocket and return to earth with the help of parachutes.
What makes the New Shepard unique is that it takes off and lands vertically, more like an airplane than other rockets we are used to seeing. The rocket also flies autonomously, that is, without a pilot.
Blue Origin Test Flights
So far, Blue Origin, based outside of Seattle, has completed eight test flights at their launch pad in Texas. None of the test launches have included passengers, but two have hosted a test dummy on board known among Blue Origin employees as “Mannequin Skywalker.” Blue Origin plans to launch a test with passengers on board in the near future. The test flight is expected to comprise of Blue Origin employees, but those employees have not yet been selected.
Blue Origin will also run a test of their capsule escape system from space. The capsule escape system launches the crew to safety should the engine booster explode. The capsule escape test should happen within the next few weeks.
Jeff Bezos’ Company Competition
Bezos isn’t the only billionaire entrepreneur trying to launch the space tourism industry. British billionaire Richard Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, with the hope of developing commercial spacecrafts for tourism as well as scientific missions. Virgin Galactic claims to have already sold 650 tickets at $250,000 per ticket to be launched into suborbital space. Virgin Galactic has not yet announced when the planned voyages will commence.
Jeff Bezos’ company is also facing competition from Tesla’s chief executive, Elon Musk. Musk founded his commercial space exploration company in 2002. While Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are pursuing space tourism, SpaceX says their goal is to eventually enable humans to colonize other planets. Musk has famously said he hopes to die on Mars, but not on impact.
Bezos, Branson, and Musk all hope to be able to cut the cost of space travel by developing reusable spacecrafts, but the cost of each voyage is still estimated to be in the millions of dollars. They hope to make the proposed space trip cost effective enough to allow a tourism industry to develop. The space industry is now already worth over $300 billion a year. Most of the industry is dominated by government projects and satellite services. Bezos, Branson, and Musk hope to grow the commercial side of the industry and be the first to take a slice of the pie.
2018 has already been huge for sci-fi fans and space enthusiasts. President Donald Trump announced a new branch of the US Armed Forces, the Space Force, while NASA’s public-private partnership with SpaceX has revitalized the mission for space exploration.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said last year, “America’s best days in space exploration are ahead of us thanks to the grit and determination of those in government, and the private sector, who dare to dream big dreams and have the skills to turn them into reality.
“We’ve ended the outsourcing of space station resupply work and brought those jobs back home to America. The commercial space industry will be an engine of 21st century American economic growth and will help us carry out even more ambitious deep space exploration missions.”
What’s Next for Jeff Bezos?
With a networth of $143.1 billion dollars, Bezos is easily the wealthiest person on the planet. After his net worth increased by $40 billion last year, Bezos has become more concerned with how he should spend him money.
He plans to make an announcement towards the end of the summer on a new philanthropic project, but he is still focusing on space exploration. He complained of the high cost of space travel to the Explorer’s Club in March. He went on to say, “I’m in the process of converting my Amazon lottery winnings into a much lower price of admission so we can go explore the solar system.”