An 11-minute flight into space was worth at least $1.4 million to one prospective passenger bidding for a shot to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket this July, and that was before people got to see what the high bid so far was.
Just hours after Blue Origin made public what had been private bids for the summer flight, the highest bid had already increased to $2.6 million.
The auction for what will be the first operational mission for the space tourism rocket for the company founded by Jeff Bezos will conclude with a final round in a live online auction at 1 p.m. EDT June 12. Proceeds from the winning bid will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation Club for the Future, which aims to steer youth into STEM careers.
Bidding opened on May 5 and has so far seen 5,200 bidders from 136 countries, the company said.
The targeted July 20 launch will be the first crewed flight of the rocket, which has made 15 successful test runs so far without passengers. Flights have surpassed the target 100,000km threshold that is the internationally recognized altitude for a person having made it into space.
Flights will send the capsule and its passengers into suborbital space on about an 11-minute flight from launch to landing. The rides will allow passengers to unbuckle and experience weightlessness for a few minutes before strapping back into their reclining seats for the trip back to Earth.
With safety in mind, the capsule has an escape motor that is designed to propel the passengers away from the booster rocket, which like SpaceX’s Falcon 9 boosters, will be reusable.
While not yet revealed, the expected price point could come in around $250,000 a person, the same as competitor Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s space tourism venture that has set up shop in New Mexico. Virgin Galactic has flown two test flights with passengers, although to a lower altitude than what New Shepard is capable. Virgin’s target is passing 50 miles altitude, which is what the Federal Aviation Authority recognizes as the altitude for becoming an astronaut.
Both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin’s space tourism plans aim to let passengers see the curvature of the Earth on the short flights, and the companies then plan for quick turnaround to launch the next set of paying customers.
Blue Origin capsules can hold up to six passengers and will launch from its West Texas launch facility.
The venture is meant to raise funds for the company’s larger space plans including the development of a heavy lift rocket New Glenn, which is under construction at the company’s facility near Kennedy Space Center. Blue Origin had also been competing with partners Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Dynetics to be one of NASA’s choices for the Human Landing System for the Artemis missions to the moon, but lost out to SpaceX and its Starship design. Both the Blue Origin group and Dynetics have filed a protest on the NASA decision.
The company’s vision remains, “millions of people living and working in space.”
The space tourism sector includes several other companies, but many costs in the millions as they offer up longer-term orbital flights and visits to the International Space Station.
It’s just over 20 years since Dennis Tito paid a reported $20 million for a weeklong visit to the ISS flying up to the station on a Soyuz rocket.
Now, with the SpaceX Crew Dragon and soon potentially Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, businesses are contracting to use those craft with price tags of up to $55 million a passenger for similar ventures.
Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic and the company Space Perspective that looks to fly a space balloon with passengers by 2024 look to cash in on a much larger client base with the shorter flights, but much lower costs.
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