Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos, will launch a rocket with passengers on board for the first time in July, the company announced on Wednesday.
A seat on the flight that will carry six astronauts on a short excursion to the edge of space is up for auction.
The first astronaut flight from New Shepard, a suborbital spacecraft, is scheduled for July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
“We’ve been testing for years, so we’re ready,” said Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales at Blue Origin, at a press conference Wednesday.
Mr. Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, started Blue Origin in 2000. Like other billionaires who have invested in space, he has set comprehensive goals for humanity’s expansion around the solar system and envisioned millions of people who will eventually live and work in space.
For now, most of Blue Origin’s business has stayed closer to Earth. It builds and sells rocket engines to another rocket company, United Launch Alliance. A rocket that would put cargo into orbit is not expected to be ready for years, and the company recently lost a competition with SpaceX for a contract to build a lunar lander for NASA’s astronauts (it beat the award protested). Customers have also paid to fly science experiments for NASA and private scientists during test flights of the New Shepard spacecraft.
It has been preparing for the launch of its space tourism program for years, which aims to offer suborbital travel to the edge of space, 62 miles above Earth. A competitor, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, is also planning to fly space tourists on suborbital excursions. Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane known as SpaceShipTwo is flown by two pilots, so it has carried people into space on test flights, but not yet paying passengers.
Blue Origin’s tourist rocket is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go into space. 15 test flights were carried out, none of which had passengers on board. Before the last test in April, a crew tried getting in and out of the capsule.
For July’s crewed launch, astronauts will arrive at the launch site in west Texas four days before their flight for safety training, Ms. Cornell said.
At about 47 miles, or 250,000 feet, the capsule carrying passengers will separate from its booster. Soon after, the astronauts will unbuckle their seatbelts for about three minutes and experience weightlessness before returning to Earth, Ms. Cornell said. The vehicle is under full pressure, so passengers don’t have to wear spacesuits or helmets.
Ms. Cornell declined to comment on the other passengers who would be on the flight on July 20th. The tender for the sixth seat, which began on Wednesday, ends on June 12 with a live auction.
The terms and conditions of the auction listed on Blue Origin’s website require the winner to be five feet tall and 110 pounds to 6 feet four and 223 pounds in height and weight.
The astronaut must also be able to walk the gangway at heights over 70 feet above the ground, climb the launch tower – the equivalent of seven flights of stairs – in less than 90 seconds, and fasten their own harness in less than 15 seconds.
The astronaut also needs to be comfortable if there is a lot of pressure applied to them for a few minutes during the ascent and descent.
Proceeds from the award will be donated to Club for the Future, a Blue Origin-affiliated foundation for science and technology education, Ms. Cornell said.
Ms. Cornell declined to comment on possible prices for regular tickets and at the time of sale to the general public. But she said there would be “a few more crewed flights before the end of the year”.
She also declined to answer if Mr. Bezos would be on the first flight and did not say if and when he would go into space.