Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is now ready to take one paying passenger into space.
The US billionaire entrepreneur’s Blue Origin company says it will launch a crew aboard its New Shepard rocket and capsule system on July 20.
One window seat is being auctioned online.
18m tall and 4m wide, New Shepard is a fully reusable, vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) space vehicle.
New Shepard’s flights are sub-orbital. They’re designed to take passengers on a straight up-and-down trip that briefly goes above the 100km-high Karman Line, designated by broad international agreement as the beginning of space.
“Only 569 people have ever been over the Karman Line. With our New Shepard vehicle, we’re about to change that and change it dramatically,” said Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of astronaut sales.
She declined to comment on whether Bezos himself might be on the July 20 flight.
Blue Origin’s announcement is further evidence of a resurgence in space tourism after a gap of almost 12 years when wealthy visitors visited the international space station.
The flight will blast off from Blue Origin’s desert base in Van Horn in West Texas.
During flight, the booster unit lifts the pressurised passenger vessel to about 76km in altitude, where the pair then separate.
Momentum carries the capsule on upwards into space, where passengers will experience about three minutes of weightlessness at the top of the climb. They’ll also get to see the blackness of space and Earth’s curved horizon.
They’ll then glide back down to the ground under three parachutes. The booster will also come back home under control.
The company is not discussing future fares but once fully operational, the company could expect to earn perhaps US$200,000 per seat.
Blue Origin says the cash raised from this particular sale will go to its foundation that promotes science and technology education.
A seat on the flight is just one of several soon to be open to the super wealthy.
Rival businessman Elon Musk is expected to launch one of his SpaceX Dragonships in the autumn with an all-civilian crew aboard. It will go orbital with the capsule staying in space for several days.
As well as Bezos and Musk, British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson continues to push his Virgin Galactic rocket plane concept.
Blue Origin’s announcement was timed to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the first spaceflight made by an American astronaut, Alan Shepard, in whose honour the new tourist vehicle is named.
He flew a 15-minute sub-orbital flight in his Project Mercury Freedom-7 capsule on May 5, 1961.