A New Shepard rocket is launched on a test flight.
Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin auctioned off a seat on Saturday for its upcoming first manned spaceflight for $28 million.
The winning bidder, whose name has not been released, will fly to the edge of space with the Amazon founder and his brother Mark on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket that launches on July 20. The company said it will reveal the name of the auction winner in the coming weeks.
The bidding opened at $4.8 million, but surpassed $20 million within the first few minutes of the auction. Proceeds from the auction will be donated to Blue Origin’s education-focused nonprofit Club for the Future, which supports children interested in future STEM careers.
Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of astronauts and orbital sales, said during the auction’s webcast that New Shepard’s first passenger flight will carry four people, including Bezos, his brother, the auction winner, and a fourth person to be announced later.
Autonomous space flight
New Shepard, a rocket that carries a capsule to an altitude of more than 340,000 feet, has flown more than a dozen successful test flights without passengers, including one in April at the company’s facility in the Texas desert. It is designed to carry up to six people and flies autonomously – without the need for a pilot. The capsule has huge windows to give passengers a view of Earth below for about three minutes in gravity, before returning to Earth.
Blue Origin’s system is launched vertically and both the rocket and capsule are reusable. The boosters land vertically on a concrete platform at the company’s Van Horn, Texas plant, while the capsules land using a set of parachutes.
The interior of the latest New Shepard capsule
Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 and still owns the company, financing it through the sale of shares of his Amazon stock.
July 20 is notable because it also marks the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Branson and Musk
VSS Unity fires its rocket engine shortly after launching on its third spaceflight on May 22, 2021.
Bezos and fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson are in a race to reach space, but each in different ways. Bezos’ Blue Origin and Branson’s Virgin Galactic compete to take passengers on short flights to the edge of space, an industry known as suborbital tourism, while Musk’s SpaceX launches private passengers on further, multi-day flights, in what is known as orbital tourism. .
Both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have developed rocket-powered spacecraft, but that’s where the similarities end. As Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket is launched vertically from the ground, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo system is released into the air and returns to Earth in a glide for a runway, like an airplane.
Virgin Galactic’s system is also flown by two pilots, while Blue Origin is launched without one. Branson’s company has also flown a test space flight with a passenger on board, although the company has three more space tests before flying commercial customers — which is scheduled for 2022.
SpaceX is launching its Crew Dragon spacecraft into orbit above its reusable Falcon 9 rocket, having sent 10 astronauts to the International Space Station on three missions so far.
In addition to the government flights, Musk’s company plans to launch multiple private astronaut missions over the next year — starting with the all-civilian Inspiration4 mission scheduled for September. SpaceX will also launch at least four private missions for Axiom Space early next year.
Blue Origin’s auction may have raised $28 million, but a seat on a suborbital spacecraft is typically much cheaper. Virgin Galactic has historically sold reservations between $200,000 and $250,000 per ticket, and more recently the Italian Air Force has charged about $500,000 per ticket for a training space flight.
Musk’s orbital missions are more expensive than suborbital flights, with NASA paying SpaceX about $55 million per seat for spaceflights to the ISS.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft called “Resilience” is docked at the International Space Station.
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