Blue Origin’s CEO wants to build more suborbital New Shepard spacecraft

Capitalism in space: Bob Smith, Blue Origin’s CEO, declared yesterday that the company has more space tourist customers than it can fly on its single New Shepard suborbital spacecraft, and wants to build more to handle the potential traffic.

Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin flew 14 people to space in 2021, and CEO Bob Smith on Thursday said the firm needs to build more of its New Shepard rockets to meet the demand from the space tourism market. “I think the challenge for Blue at this point is that we’re actually supply limited,” Smith said, speaking at the FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington.

If true, this is good news, for the suborbital tourist market. It means there might be enough business for both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic to survive and make money, at least for a few years.

At the same time, Smith’s focus seems wildly misplaced, since it is the orbital market, not the suborbital space tourism market, where the future lies, as well as the really big money. Putting tourists on short ten minute hops to space might be exciting right now, but very soon it will seem very passe, as more and more orbital tourist flights take place.

I wonder if anyone asked Smith about the status of Blue Origin’s orbital rocket, New Glenn, which remains untested and years behind schedule, all because.the BE-4 engine that will power it is also years behind schedule. It would be nice to know when the first flightworthy engines will be delivered to ULA, as well as installed on New Glenn. Those engines were promised more than a year ago, and are still not a reality.

Blue Origin sets October 12th for next suborbital tourist flight

Capitalism in space: Blue Origin announced yesterday that it has scheduled October 12, 2021 for its next New Shepard suborbital tourist flight, carrying four passengers, two of which have been revealed.

The company has revealed two of the four crewmembers will be Chris Boshuizen, co-founder of Earth observation company Planet Labs, and Glen de Vries, vice chair for life sciences and healthcare at French software company Dassault Systèmes. The remaining two crewmembers will be announced in the coming days, Blue Origin said in a statement.

The NS-18 mission, the 18th flight overall for the New Shepard rocket, will lift off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in West Texas at 9:30 a.m. EDT (8:30 a.m. CDT or 1330 GMT) on Oct. 12. In addition to the four passengers, the flight will carry thousands of postcards from Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, which aims to inspire future generations to pursue careers in sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

There have been rumors that William Shatner will be one of the other passengers, but this has not yet been confirmed.

Blue Origin sells first tourist seat on New Shepard for $28 million

Capitalism in space: In a live auction today, Blue Origin successfully sold the first tourist seat on the first manned commercial suborbital flight of its New Shepard spacecraft for $28 million. With the additional fee of 6%, the total price was about $29.6 million.

I have embedded the replay of the auction below the fold, cued up to the auction start.

The bidding was amazingly fierce and aggressive, starting at $4.8 million. The final price is quite spectacular, actually $9+ million higher than what Dennis Tito paid to fly to ISS for several days back in the 1990s.

One wonders what SpaceX and Axiom have been charging for their orbital flights. I doubt it is this much. As I watched I wondered if the bidders were considering the time they would spend with Jeff Bezos as part of the value. These are wealthy people, and getting a chance to spend a lot of time with one of the richest men in the world might be far more valuable to them than the flight itself.

Regardless, we will know soon who won the auction, and will fly into space for a few minues or so on July 20th.

» Read more

Trump official skeptical of point-to-point suborbital transportation

During the FAA’s annual commercial space conference, the executive secretary for Trump’s National Space Council, Scott Pace, expressed strong skepticism about plans by some companies to develop point-to-point transportation using suborbital spacecraft.

“I still see that as somewhat speculative and somewhat over the horizon,” he said. “I see us working right now on trying to get the suborbital market up, running and sort of stabilized. I think people look forward to the possibility of point-to-point passenger and cargo travel, but right now just getting routine suborbital access to space and pushing hard on the unmanned hypersonic and military applications is where the action is.”

“Maybe it’s not too soon to think about,” he added, “but I still think that’s a bit farther out until I see how the initial market settles out.”

In this context Pace noted his primary focus was in helping Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin get their space tourism businesses off the ground. Virgin Galactic has been making noises that it wants to do point-to-point transportation as well. His skepticism of this is actually quite realistic, since Virgin Galactic has not even completed its first commercial tourism flight and its rocket and spacecraft are underpowered as well.

If Pace’s skepticism is however aimed at SpaceX’s Starship plans to do point-to-point transportation, he is exhibiting a typical Washington bureaucrat’s timidity about new technology.

Meanwhile, Virgin Galactic has gotten a contract from NASA to train private astronauts. To my mind this is NASA’s attempt to keep this company above water, as it certainly isn’t the most qualified to do this kind of training. If I wanted training for going on a private space mission, SpaceX and Boeing would be better places to get that preparation.

The deal however has done wonders for Virgin Galactic’s stock, causing it to rise almost 16% yesterday following the announcement of this contract. Great timing for Richard Branson, who by coincidence just happens to be trying to sell some of his stock at this moment.