Billionaire Jeff Bezos’ aerospace company Blue Origin is set to perform its first suborbital flight with crew onboard on 20 July this year, and is offering up one spot onboard to the highest bidder.
Following 15 consecutive successful non-crewed test flights, the 20 July flight will mark the first test flight with astronauts on board.
The spacecraft, New Shepard, carries just six passengers, and the company is offering up one seat on its first flight to the highest bidder on its five-week online auction.
The proceeds of the auction will be donated to the space firm’s foundation, Club for the Future, which works to encourage future generations to pursue careers in STEM and help invent the future of life in space.
The New Shepard is a rocket-and-capsule combo that flies autonomously into suborbital space, around 100 kilometres above Earth.
The spacecraft flies high enough to see the curvature of the earth, and experience a few minutes of low-gravity weightlessness, according to Blue Origin.
At the end of the flight, the pressurised crew capsule returns back down to earth via parachutes. The flight will launch from Blue Origin’s reusable booster in West Texas, with a landing point also in West Texas.
According to Blue Origin, the crew capsule boasts six observation windows, that are each nearly three times as large as Boeing 747 windows, and the largest ever to be used in space.
“The view will be spectacular,” Blue Origin’s director of astronaut sales, Ariane Cornell, told a media briefing.
While currently only 569 people have ever been into space, she said, “We’re about to change that dramatically.”
Following the inaugural crewed flight in July, Cornell stated that the company will continue to produce a number of other crewed flights before the end of 2021, with hopes to ramp up offerings for tourist space flights in 2022.
The announcement marks the beginning of a new tourism trend, though spaceflights will largely be reserved for the uber wealthy, with tickets expected to cost into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As such, Cornell said that the ultimate winner of the seat auction, and other future prospective customers, are likely to already be “very clear on our radar”
Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is also gearing up to offer public spaceflights on his VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo spaceplane by early 2022, having already successfully completed a number of crewed flight tests into suborbital space.
SpaceShipTwo is a six-passenger, two-pilot craft, also designed to make brief jaunts to suborbital space.
SpaceShipTwo takes off from a runway beneath the wing of a carrier plane called WhiteKnightTwo.
WhiteKnightTwo carries the spaceplane to an altitude of about 50,000 feet, where SpaceShipTwo drops free and makes its own way to suborbital space.