A New Shepard missile takes off on a test flight.
Jeff Bezos’ space company Blue Origin auctioned a seat for its upcoming first manned spaceflight for $ 28 million on Saturday.
The successful bidder, whose name has not been published, will fly to the edge of space with the Amazon founder and his brother Mark on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket, which is due to launch on July 20th. The company said it would announce the auction winner’s name in the coming weeks.
The bidding started at $ 4.8 million but exceeded $ 20 million in the first few minutes of the auction. The 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, director of astronaut and orbital sales at Blue Origin, said during the auction webcast that New Shepard’s first passenger flight will carry four people, including Bezos, his brother, the auction winner and a fourth person who will be announced later .
Autonomous space travel
New Shepard, a rocket that lifts a capsule to over 340,000 feet, has flown more than a dozen successful passenger-free test flights, including one in April at the company’s facility in the Texas desert. It is designed for up to six people and flies autonomously – without the need for a pilot. The capsule has massive windows to allow passengers to view Earth for about three minutes in weightlessness before returning to Earth.
Blue Origin’s system launches vertically and both the rocket and capsule are reusable. The boosters land vertically on a concrete slab at the company’s facility in Van Horn, Texas, while the capsules land with a set of parachutes.
The inside of the newest New Shepard capsule
Bezos founded Blue Origin in 2000 and still owns the company by funding it through stock sales of his Amazon shares.
July 20th is notable because it also marks the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Branson and Musk
VSS Unity ignites its rocket engine shortly after take-off for its third space flight on May 22, 2021.
Bezos and his billionaires Elon Musk and Sir Richard Branson are in a space race, but each in different ways. Bezos’ Blue Origin and Branson’s Virgin Galactic compete to take passengers to the edge of space on short flights, a sector known as suborbital tourism, while Musk’s SpaceX takes private passengers to orbital tourism on additional multi-day flights.
Both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic developed rocket-powered starships, but that’s where the similarities end. As Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket launches vertically from the ground, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo system is deployed in the air and returns to Earth like an airplane for a runway landing.
Virgin Galactic’s system is also flown by two pilots, while Blue Origin’s system takes off without one. Branson’s company has also flown a test space flight with a passenger aboard, though the company still has three space tests before it can begin with commercial clients – which is slated to begin in 2022.
SpaceX launches its Crew Dragon spacecraft to orbit its reusable Falcon 9 rocket after sending 10 astronauts on three missions to the International Space Station to date.
In addition to government flights, Musk’s company plans to launch several private astronaut missions in the coming year – starting with the civilian Inspiration4 mission slated for September. SpaceX is also launching at least four private missions for Axiom Space early next year.
Blue Origin’s auction raised $ 28 million, but a seat on a suborbital spaceship is usually much cheaper. Virgin Galactic has historically sold reservations between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000 per ticket and recently charged the Italian Air Force about $ 500,000 per ticket for a training room flight.
Musk’s orbital missions are more expensive than suborbital flights, with NASA SpaceX paying about $ 55 million per seat for space flights to the ISS.
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, named “Resilience”, is docked at the International Space Station.
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