Jeff Bezos's secretive rocket company, Blue Origin, is just one of many private enterprises proving that when it comes to commercializing space, SpaceX is not the only game in town.

On Tuesday, the typically press-shy Bezos unveiled his operation in Kent, Washington, Blue Origin's headquarters, and shared details about the progress his company is making toward offering short commercial flights to spaceThe New York Times reports. Blue Origin's reusable rocket called New Shepard, which returned from a two-month trip to space in January, could begin offering short flights to six paying passengers at a time as early as 2018, according to Bezos.

It's unclear how much such a trip would cost each space tourist, but rival space entrepreneur Richard Branson's company Virgin Galactic has presold roughly 700 tickets at $250,000 each for a round-trip flight aboard the company's SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, whose first launch date is yet to be determined.

Exactly how much Bezos has invested in Blue Origin is also unknown, though the Houston Chronicle reported in 2014 that the Amazon founder had spent around $500 million on the venture. Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000, but operated it in almost complete secrecy for several years.

Taking humans into space and letting them experience weightlessness for a short period is not the only driving force behind Blue Origin. Bezos also wants to sell his rocket engines to companies like United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, and to bring payloads into orbit. Rather than developing a service only the super wealthy can enjoy, Bezos views Blue Origin's work as advancing an important technology that could one day have a more useful purpose. Last year, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson predicted that the mining of asteroids for metals like gold and platinum would produce the world's first trillionaire. 

Though Bezos faces competition from Elon Musk's SpaceX and even got in a Twitter feud with the fellow billionaire in December over who had completed the first vertical landing with a reusable rocket, he told the Times that just being able to start Blue Origin has been a lifelong dream.

"I never expected to have the resources to start a space company," he said. "I won a lottery ticket called Amazon.com."

Published on: Mar 9, 2016