Jeff Bezos’ space venture company, Blue Origin, has announced a launch date the first all-civilian flight on board its suborbital vehicle New Shepard. The intergalactic sight-seeing flight, scheduled for July 20, is big enough news as it is, but what’s even more interesting is that Amazon’s head honcho has launched a five-week Blue Origin auction for a spot on board the six-person vehicle.
The 11-minute flight will fly to the edge of space, more than 100km above Earth. New Shepard has been designed to fly autonomously so the only humans on board will be the six passengers, which includes the winning bidder of the Blue Origin auction, with all proceeds donated to the space firm’s foundation.
New Shepard will take passengers high enough to experience a few minutes of weightlessness, look back on Earth, and directly observe the expanse of space, before the pressurised capsule returns to earth under several parachutes. To heighten to experience, the capsule features six observation windows, which Blue Origin claim are almost three times the size as those used on a typical Boeing 747 jetliner. That makes them the largest ever used in space, giving Blue Origin a nice edge over offerings from Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.
Blue Origin remain tight-lipped about how much a seat onboard the New Shepard space tourism flight is actually worth. Although Reuters reported in 2018 that it should be at least US$200,000 (~AU$257,198) per seat, a figure based on comparisons with plans from Virgin Galactic and several other considerations.
Aussies wanting to get on board may want to think twice though. The auction is, so far at least, only open the US residents seeing as July’s flight will launch and land in West Texas. Although Blue Origin have indicated that they are looking at other launch locations outside of the states and will be basing this on demand. And it’s safe to say demand will be high, at least amongst those who can afford to just casually fling off to space for a couple of minutes.
Importantly, Jeff Bezos himself hasn’t confirmed when he will be personally heading to space. This is, after all, the first time Blue Origin will be sending humans into space. It’s going to take a lot more than bravery to be the first-mover for a company that is relatively unproven in the field, at least when compared to Elon Musk’s SpaceX which has already sent a manned flight into space and plans to also launch all-civilian flights by the end of 2021. SpaceX even aged some fine French wine in space to double down on their space race success thus far.
The New Shepard has successfully completed 15 consecutive test flights, but never before with human passengers on board.
The brave Blue Origin auction winner has plenty to look forward to though. Once New Shepard is about 75km above the planet’s surface, the craft will detach from its rocket booster and weightlessness will kick in for about three minutes. But before that, all passengers will be expected to undergo four days of safety training at the Van Horn, Texas launch site.
Anyone US residents interesting in placing a bid should know that the auction will take place across three phases. The first phase, which has already begun, is open for anyone to put in sealed bids online through the auction website (linked below). On May 19, the second phase will make all bids visible so the real heated competition can begun. Once June 12 rolls around, the auction will go live and finally decide who gets a spot on board the New Shepard space flight.
July 20 has been chosen as the launch date, seemingly because it marks the 52nd anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing.
Proceeds from the sale go for Club for Future, which is a foundation by Blue Origin, set up for science and technology education.