Beyond Space Tourism: Jeff Bezos Sees Many Uses for Blue Origin Rocket

Blue Origin's New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket has undergone multiple test flights. Jeff Bezos, the company's founder and CEO, said he hopes the company's first space tourists will fly on New Shepard in 2018.
Blue Origin's New Shepard reusable, suborbital rocket has undergone multiple test flights. Jeff Bezos, the company's founder and CEO, said he hopes the company's first space tourists will fly on New Shepard in 2018. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Billionaire Jeff Bezos' private spaceflight company, Blue Origin, may have multiple uses for its New Shepard rocket, which has been primarily marketed as a space tourism vehicle.

New Shepard is a suborbital rocket that will be used to send paying customers on 11-minute trips to space. The capsule can also be used for science experiments studying the space environment or the effects of weightlessness. One of the revolutionary aspects of New Shepard is its reusable rocket booster, which drops back down to Earth after launch and lands vertically.

At the 33rd annual Space Symposium, Rob Meyerson, president of Blue Origin, told a group of reporters that there could additional applications for the booster as well. [Jeff Bezos Reveals 'Sneak Peek' of Blue Origin Space Capsule]

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Blue Origin, said at the 33rd annual Space Symposium that he thinks the company's New Shepard booster could be used (with an additional booster stage) to get small satellites into orbit. (Image credit: Space Foundation/Tom Kimmel Photography)

Speaking to a crowd a special event during the symposium, Bezos mentioned the possibility of attaching a second-stage booster to New Shepard and using the dual-stage rocket to launch small satellites into orbit.  

"It'd be perfectly capable of being a first stage for a small orbital vehicle," he said.  

And for Blue Origin, one of the biggest additional benefits of the New Shepard system is the way it is helping the company design its orbital rocket, New Glenn, Bezos said. That rocket will also have a reusable booster that will land vertically, just like New Shepard.

Bezos expanded on the kinds of things the company is learning from New Shepard.

"The [things you learn] are often at the detail level," he said. "What kind of seals do you want to use, what kind of bearings, what kind of materials do you want to choose? And so on and so on. A lot of those details are the things that … you can't learn them at the conceptual level. You have to learn them through actual practice."

Blue Moons and SpaceX founder Jeff Bezos leads Blue Origin, a commercial aerospace firm that hopes to send people on suborbital and orbital space trips. See how Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft works here. (Image credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

Blue Origin will also use the New Shepard landing technology to help develop Blue Moon, the company's newly announced program to deliver cargo payloads to the moon, Meyerson said at the symposium.

The news of Blue Moon's development came the same week that another private spaceflight company, SpaceX, announced its plans to send two paying customers on a trip around the moon.

The coincidence has drawn further comparisons between the two companies, both of which are helmed by billionaire entrepreneurs and are fiercely pursuing reusable-rocket capabilities in an effort to lower the cost of sending payloads to space. Bezos said Blue Origin is working to build rocket boosters that can be reused shortly after a flight, requiring minimal inspections and refurbishments.

"If you recover [a spent rocket booster] and spend a lot of time and money X-raying everything, revalidating everything, refurbishing everything, it's not actually going to lower cost," he said. "You have to [make it] much more like airline operations. You have to be able to land, refuel, maybe do some minor inspections, and then off you go again."

Gwynne Shotwell, president and chief operating officer of SpaceX, shared similar thoughts in a talk earlier in the day. She, too, drew a comparison to the commercial airline industry, saying that unless a rocket booster could be turned around in 24 hours with minimal refurbishment, "it doesn't count."  

SpaceX has successfully launched and landed its reusable Falcon 9 rocket multiple times, and last week, the company made the first successful flight and landing of a booster that had already flown. The Falcon 9 can send payloads into orbit and is already being used to send customer payloads to space. Blue Origin has reflown a spent New Shepard booster multiple times, but those boosters have not yet been used to service customers.

"I think we're very like-minded in a lot of ways," Bezos said of Blue Origin and SpaceX. "I believe deeply in vertical landing as a good architecture, because it's scalable. I think reusability is the key to lowering cost. I think you should do that first with the booster stage. Many of these things are very similar."

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Calla Cofield
Senior Writer

Calla Cofield joined's crew in October 2014. She enjoys writing about black holes, exploding stars, ripples in space-time, science in comic books, and all the mysteries of the cosmos. Prior to joining Calla worked as a freelance writer, with her work appearing in APS News, Symmetry magazine, Scientific American, Nature News, Physics World, and others. From 2010 to 2014 she was a producer for The Physics Central Podcast. Previously, Calla worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (hands down the best office building ever) and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. Calla studied physics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and is originally from Sandy, Utah. In 2018, Calla left to join NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory media team where she oversees astronomy, physics, exoplanets and the Cold Atom Lab mission. She has been underground at three of the largest particle accelerators in the world and would really like to know what the heck dark matter is. Contact Calla via: E-Mail – Twitter