Amazon's Jeff Bezos is moving ahead with his spaceflight company, Blue Origin, Reuters reports. It has finished working on the engine for its suborbital spaceship, "New Shepard" — which means that test flights will begin this year.
it will fly uncrewed a dozen times before pilots can take part
"The engine is ready for flight ... and ready for other commercial users," Rob Meyerson, Blue Origin's president, told reporters during a call. He wouldn't say exactly when the tests flights would begin, however — only that they would start within the year.
The rocket that the company is developing will be able to hold up to three people. New Shepard will be launched, uncrewed, from Blue Origin's basecamp in Texas about a dozen times before the company will allow pilots to take part in the tests, Reuters reports. And in the meantime, Blue Origin will start working on attaching the motor to the capsule.
Like Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo — a ship that crashed in October, leading to a pilot's death — New Shepard is a suborbital spaceship. This means that it won't be able to complete a full orbital revolution of Earth; it will be able to fly 62 miles above land, however. Eventually, Blue Origin will try to turn the ship into one that can orbit Earth. That version of the New Shepard system should fly within the next 10 years, the company says. It will achieve this thanks to a liquified natural gas motor that's being developed by United Launch Alliance — a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp.