A company started by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos still plans to carry its first paying passengers on an 11-minute tourist flight into space sometime next year, the billionaire entrepreneur said Wednesday at the 33rd annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.
The company doesn't expect to begin human testing with its own employees this year and won't let any deadline dictate its launch schedule at the expense of safety, Bezos said during a news conference in front of his Blue Origin New Shepard spacecraft in front of Broadmoor Hall. He eventually wants to make space travel as common as airline flights by bringing down the cost by 90 to 99 percent through using a reusable rocket.
"My singular focus is to have people in space. To make that model work, we have to do other things, so satellite customers will cover some of the costs in the early innings," Bezos said. "The demand for this will be up to the customers. I have thrown plenty of parties that no one came to, but I don't think that will be case."
Bezos said Blue Origin and SpaceX, started by fellow billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, have similar visions of reusable spacecraft making space travel more affordable, though SpaceX is planning a manned mission to Mars, while Blue Origin wants to carry tourists on short space flights.
The cost of the initial flights haven't been determined, but Bezos said Blue Origin will begin taking down payments when the company is closer to offering commercial service. He said passengers will need only about an hour of training before the flight.
"We are not racing. The vehicle will carry humans. We will test and make it as safe as it can be. We are making great progress," Bezos said. "Hopefully that (commercial service) will be in 2018."
Bezos said his business plan for Blue Origin so far has been to sell about $1 billion a year in Amazon stock to invest in the space-travel startup, but eventually wants the company to become a profitable long-term business.
"I want to see an entrepreneurial explosion in space," he said. "Most things you now do in space have a high cost of admission. If we can reduce the cost of launch by a factor of 10 or 100, it will be a completely new world - a golden age of space exploration."