Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket completed its 10th uncrewed test flight today (Jan. 23) during a smooth launch from chilly West Texas — but the company is eyeing a crewed flight later this year, according to statements made during today's launch broadcast.
That timeline is becoming clearer after a December road trip brought the company's fourth rocket, the first rated for human passengers, to its launch facility in West Texas. New Shepard is the company's reusable, suborbital rocket designed for space tourism flights; the company is also designing a larger, heavy-lift rocket called New Glenn, which is scheduled to debut in 2021.
"So exciting to think that human spaceflight is just around the corner [for Blue Origin]," Ariane Cornell, the company's director of astronaut and orbital sales, said during the broadcast of today's launch. "We're aiming for the end of this year, by the end of this year, but as we have said before, we are not in a rush. We want to take our time, we want to do this right."[Launch Photos! Blue Origin's New Shepard Soars on NS-10]
It's not the first time the company, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has floated a possible timeline. Previous goals included a human launch within a year, announced in December 2017, and a crewed test flight by the end of 2017, announced a year before that.
Another key milestone before any commercial flight occurs will be launching ticket sales for tourist flights, the step after crewed test flights. Blue Origin announced last summer that it is planning to begin ticket sales at a yet-to-be-disclosed price this year.
"It's not that far away, right?" Cornell said. "Literally, I can go touch the rocket that is going to be taking people to space — and, fingers crossed, me one day as well."