The race for space tourism is intensifying as Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson look to finally blast their first passengers into space next year.
One of the former NASA astronauts, Jeff Ashby, who is director of safety and mission assurance for Jeff Bezos' space firm Blue Origin, said the firm is now 'a year out' from human flights. The astronaut was speaking at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Colorado.
Richard Branson revealed in October that he will travel to space on his Virgin Galactic craft within six months. Musk is also expected to soon reveal the launch schedule for a manned version of his Dragon capsule that will ferry astronauts to the International Space station under a NASA contract next year.
The recent launch of Blue Origin's test site in West Texas of 'Version 2.0' of its crew capsule, outfitted with the large windows that are a distinctive feature of the spacecraft.
The launch carried 12 experiments as well as a test dummy, dubbed 'Mannequin Skywalker,' to measure the environment a human would experience on those flights. The test flight was first performed under a launch license awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration in August.
'You have to be licensed in order to collect revenue,' Ashby told the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, according to SpaceNews.
'So last week was the start of a revolution. It was our first revenue flight for payloads: a huge, historic moment for us.'
'We're probably a year and a half, two years out from when we're actually able to fly tended payloads,' Ashby said, which will see astronauts working with experiments on missions.
'We're about roughly a year out from human flights, depending on how the test program goes.
'We have a bunch more tests to do, and we're going to fly some human test flights before we put paying people in the rocket.'
However, Blue Origin has not yet started selling seats on New Shepard flights. 'We have not yet opened our website for tickets yet, and we won't do that until we're flying the versions of the rocket and capsule that people will ride on, to be delivered sometime next year,' he said. 'But we think there's a lot of interest.'
A footage was released by Blue Origin last week from inside its reusable space capsule, flown successfully for the first time this week. The 'Crew Capsule 2.0' reached orbit and returned to Earth with a test dummy strapped into it called Mannequin Skywalker, who can be seen taking a dizzying ride into space before returning back to Earth.
Although the flight itself provided stunning views of the Earth below, the landing is not for the faint-hearted, with the capsule containing the test dummy seen spinning before kicking up a cloud of dust upon impact.