Blue Origin might have lost out on the contract to help NASA build its lunar lander system, but the company isn’t letting small setbacks hamper its ambition to establish a presence in space.
As several of its competitors and even governments begin charting a possible future for space travel, Blue Origin is now opening the doors for people to book flights on one of its flagship rockets - a phenomenon that could come sooner than you think.
Tickets on Sale Now
According to a video published last month, Blue Origin confirmed that it would begin selling seat tickets for its New Shepard rocket starting from this month. The video confirmed that tickets will go on sale on Wednesday, May 5th, with customers now finally able to book seats and be the first to get rides when the suborbital rocket takes flight.
The video announcement featured Blue Origin president Jeff Bezos going to the New Shepard capsule following the company’s test flight, which also took place in April. Bezos is seen driving across the desert in Texas at a remote location where the New Shepard launch facility is located.
The rocket is built to carry up to six people at a time to the edge of space. Capsules in some previous tests have reached up to 340,000 feet in altitude. New Sheppard can also spend up to ten minutes in zero gravity, after which it returns safely to the Earth’s surface. With massive windows, passengers can get an impressive view of their surroundings as they lift off and return.
New Sheppard features a vertical launch sequence, which allows the rocket to lift off. The booster eventually detaches and returns to Earth, with several parachutes slowing its descent and achieving a soft landing.
New Shepard Seems Flight-Ready
For now, the when and how of this suborbital flight are still relatively unknown. Blue Origin has worked significantly on testing and modifying its vehicle for flight recently, and its most recent missions have essentially been on applying the final touches to its system.
Just last month, Blue Origin launched New Shepard for the second time this year in a mission that led the vehicle to suborbital space and brought it back successfully to its West Texas base.
The flight also included a rehearsal component where people stood in for what would eventually be passengers in the future. These stand-ins went through the flight preparation process, which involved transportation to the pad and climbing the actual rocket. After they got seated in the rocket, they disembarked. The countdown was paused for them to get off, and it resumed again in time for the rocket to lift off safely. Blue Origin had Mannequin Skywalker, a test dummy, on board to take readings.
With one of the rocket’s smoothest landings yet, New Shepard got back to West Texas, showing that Blue Origin could be ready to conquer suborbital flight once and for all.
The next step will be a preparation patch for the last stage of the mission for the actual human crew. Essentially, rehearsal astronauts will be in the capsule and will prepare for the astronaut recovery and departure stages.
Hefty Pockets Only
Another area that seems murky for now is the financials of it all. In 2019, Blue Origin chief executive Bob Smith said at TechCrunch Disrupt San Francisco that customers would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to avoid a single ticket. The price isn’t so surprising, given the nature of the ride - a trip to space in a reusable rocket that lets a passenger experience complete weightlessness for minutes and view the outside.
Virgin Galactic, another company gearing up to run suborbital flight, is charging well over $250,000 for a single ticket. Virgin Galactic’s stock has been sliding for a while, and Blue Origin’s video announcement made that even worse. With the two companies set to complete in the commercial spaceflight scene, it will be interesting to see how they can co-exist and possibly adapt to each other.
SpaceX has also offered seats for a three-day ride in the Crew Dragon capsule through a contest funded by a Japanese billionaire, who ponied up $100 million of his own money and pledged to raise a further $200 million for charity. Commercial spaceflight is currently a prohibitively expensive endeavor, and anyone looking to be a part of it will need to have huge pockets.
While Blue Origin isn’t sharing more now, there is no doubt that we will see more details in the coming weeks.
Blue Origin is also targeting July for the launch of its first crewed flight to space. In a press conference, Ariane Cornell, the company’s director of astronaut sales, said that one of the seats available for the New Shepard flight will be auctioned. So, people can register and start bidding for it.