Blue Origin hints at the New Shepard ticket price

Capitalism in space: For the first time a Blue Origin official has provided a very rough estimate of what the company will charge per ticket for someone to take a flight in its suborbital New Shepard spacecraft.

But today, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith hinted at a ballpark figure. “It’s going to not be cheap,” Smith said at TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF conference.

Although he stressed that the price for passengers hasn’t yet been published, he indicated that Blue Origin now has a price range in mind. “Any new technology is never cheap, whether you’re talking about the first IBM computers or what we actually see today,” Smith said. “But it’ll be actually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for people to go, initially.”

Smith added that over time, “we’re going to get this down to the point where middle-class people” can afford a ticket to space. [emphasis mine]

This price sounds somewhat comparable to the prices being offered by Virgin Galactic. For the first people who had been willing to put down a deposit years ago they will pay $250K. Future buyers will pay more, at least at first.

Of course, neither company appears ready to put passengers on board, though both seem finally close and aiming for commercial flights no later than 2021. (Having said that, please don’t quote me, as I don’t really believe it, based on the endless delays coming from both companies.)

A (new) Mexican standoff at the old spaceport.

A (new) Mexican standoff at the old spaceport.

Messier not only provides a detailed analysis of the negotiations on-going between Virgin Galactic and Spaceport America over liability issues, he also provides context, much of which is not encouraging. For example,

SpaceShipTwo is set to begin its first powered test flights later this year using a “starter motor” that will be smaller than the full-scale hybrid engine that will be used for flights into space. The motor will allow pilots to test the space plane in the transonic flight region, which would be a major step forward.

Whether the full-scale RocketMotorTwo engine, powered by nitrous oxide and rubber, will be ready to fly this year is an interesting question. There have been stories for years – persistent, consistent and never really denied – that the motor just doesn’t work very well. Hybrid motors can function effectively for smaller vehicles, such as the smaller SpaceShipOne vehicle that flew in 2004, but are difficult to scale up. SpaceShipTwo is three times larger than its predecessor.

Meanwhile, there are the liability questions which might force Virgin Galactic, and all other private space companies, to flee New Mexico. The analysis suggests that the taxpayers of New Mexico might have paid for a very expensive spaceport that might never pay for itself.