After years of delays, Blue Origin says it’s finally ready for a crewed launch of its New Shepard suborbital vehicle. Founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the company is aiming for launch in July, and an auction will be held to choose a member of the crew.
On April 14, Blue Origin successfully performed a suborbital test along with an astronaut dress rehearsal of an uncrewed New Shepard rocket. I had an inkling at the time that this would be the final uncrewed test flight, and it appears my suspicions were correct. Blue Origin has now penciled in July 20 as the date for the first crewed launch of New Shepard.
On July 20th, #NewShepard will fly its first astronaut crew to space. We are offering one seat on this first flight to the winning bidder of an online auction. Anyone can place an opening bid by going to https://t.co/6DpTdTxo36. #GradatimFerociter pic.twitter.com/jBMFYX7xHg
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) May 5, 2021
Few details were given, such as the composition of the inaugural crew, but we do know this: One member of the crew will be the winner of an online auction. (Blue Origin has not immediately responded to a request for further details about the launch.)
As of today, anyone with an interest in joining the flight can place a bid at the Blue Origin website. I couldn’t resist, so I placed a modest bid of $US50, which is clearly far from the maximum bid allowed by “non-verified” bidders. Space, it’s fair to say, will remain far out of reach for your humble science reporter for the foreseeable future.
And by “space” we’re actually referring to a region slightly beyond the Karman Line, as the 18.29 m-tall (18.3-metre-tall) New Shepard rocket will not actually go into Earth orbit. Instead, the vehicle will ascend to a height exceeding 62 miles (100 kilometres), which technically qualifies as being in space. Total time in space will amount to around 11 minutes, followed by a parachute-assisted landing of the New Shepard crew capsule on the surface. The reusable main stage will perform a vertical landing at Blue Origin’s Launch Site One in Van Horn, Texas.
Proceeds from the winning bid will be donated to Club for the Future, a Blue Origin foundation with the stated goal of inspiring “future generations to pursue careers in STEM and help invent the future of life in space.” That may be so, but the company is clearly using the auction to generate hype.
Blue Origin has not yet disclosed the price of each seat for future flights, but estimates range from $US50 to $US250,000 ($65-$322,950) — and possibly even as high as $US500,000 ($645,900). The NS-15 crew capsule can accommodate up to six passengers. The company was hoping to fly people back in 2019, but the testing stage took longer than expected.