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Blue Origin plans to boost spaceflight launches in 2022: report

 The crew of Blue Origin's NS-19 mission at apogee on Dec. 11, 2021. Pictured from left to right: Evan Dick, Michael Strahan, Laura Shepard Churchley, Dylan Taylor, Lane Bess and Cameron Bess.
The crew of Blue Origin's NS-19 mission at apogee on Dec. 11, 2021. Pictured from left to right: Evan Dick, Michael Strahan, Laura Shepard Churchley, Dylan Taylor, Lane Bess and Cameron Bess. (Image credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin wants to double the number of people it flew to space in its first year of operations, a plan that can be accomplished "easily" by bringing in a second rocket, a media report indicates.

So far, the space tourism company has flown 14 people to space across three flights in July, October and December. To meet the new flight rate, SpaceNews suggests (opens in new tab), Blue Origin will need to bring on board another New Shepard vehicle and decrease the turnaround time between flights.

"The market is robust. It's very robust," Bob Smith, chief executive of Blue Origin, said of the space tourism business during a presentation at the 24th Annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference Thursday (Feb. 17). The presentation was reported by SpaceNews.

"The challenge for Blue at this point is that we're actually supply-limited. No business ever wants to be supply-limited when there's robust demand," Smith said. "It's incumbent on us to go build new vehicles, get them ready and safely go fly, and also safely get our launch cadence up."

In photos: Blue Origin's 1st New Shepard passenger launch with Jeff Bezos

While Blue Origin has not yet released its operational per-seat price or how many people are waiting in its lineup, it did indicate market projections based upon the $28 million that Chinese cryptocurrency entrepreneur Justin Sun successfully bid to join the first crewed flight of New Shepard in July. (Lin couldn't make the initial date, but plans to make an excursion in the fourth quarter of 2022.)

Blue Origin told SpaceNews that the auction gave the space tourism company a sense of how their customer base, which tends to be very rich, prices the value of a trip to space. 

“We've learned a lot of interesting things about the market over the past year," said Audrey Powers, vice-president of New Shepard flight and mission operations at Blue Origin who also flew on New Shepard in October.

The New Shepard spacecraft has a capacity of six people, and so far just one launch (the December one) has launched with a whole complement of filled seats. Smith declined to tell SpaceNews how many New Shepard flights (crewed or uncrewed) will fly in 2022, but noted that all crewed flights will carry the maximum of six people. 

The main competitor to Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, just reopened seat sales for $450,000 apiece; their missions are sidelined until later this year following maintenance and enhancement work on the VSS Unity spacecraft's carrier plane, VMS Eve. 

Virgin has said it hopes to have 1,000 people fill out its wait list, up from 700 in November 2021, by the time commercial service is expected to start in 2022. The company is also building the second of its space planes, which will each carry up to six tourists and two professional pilots. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.