Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is set to launch its fourth space tourism mission today as the company continues its mission to make high-speed flights to the far reaches of space a mainstay of pop culture.
The six passengers, including a Blue Origin engineer and five paying customers, are scheduled to depart aboard their Blue Origin New Shepard capsule on Thursday after 9:30 a.m. ET.
Those who want to catch the action – which should look a lot like Blue Origin’s previous three suborbital escapades – can tune in to Blue Origin’s webcast on Thursday morning.
Propelled by a 60-foot-tall rocket, they will soar at more than three times the speed of sound, or more than 2,000 miles per hour. Their capsule will pass the Kármán line at an altitude of 100 kilometers (or 62 miles), which is widely recognized as the altitude at which outer space begins. And at the height of the flight, they will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and, through the window, panoramic terrestrial views.
It is unclear how much the trip cost the five paying customers. Blue Origin has not publicly disclosed a fixed price per seat, although it auctioned off a ticket for $28 million. But it was for a seat to ride alongside Bezos himself, and the auction winner didn’t end up going. (It’s scheduled to fly later this year, though.) Blue Origin’s direct competitor, Virgin Galactic, is selling seats for $450,000.
That flight was supposed to include Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson, but he scrapped the mission after Blue Origin announced a schedule change earlier this month. The company has spoken of the need for additional ground tests on the New Shepard rocket as the reason for the delay.
Gary Lai, who has worked for Blue Origin for 18 years and holds several patents related to the New Shepard rocket design, flew in place of Davidson and was the only non-paying customer on the flight. Lai’s teammates included Marty Allen, an investor and former CEO of a party supply store; Jim Kitchen, entrepreneur and business professor; George Nield, former Associate Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation; Marc Hagle, an Orlando real estate developer, and his wife, Sharon Hagle, who founded a space-focused nonprofit.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS
Commercial activity in space — largely led by SpaceX — is booming. From building cheaper rockets, devising new uses for satellites, to dreaming up futuristic space hotels, the industry has attracted record levels of investment.
After years of quiet development, Blue Origin’s space tourism rocket made its crewed debut last year with Bezos, flying alongside space community hero Wally Funk and her brother Mark Bezos. and a paying customer.
Since then, Blue Origin has made headlines for piloting other well-known names on two subsequent flights, including Star Trek star William Shatner and Good Morning America host Michael Strahan.
Blue Origin’s goal is to make these suborbital spaceflights a mainstay of pop culture, offering a 10-minute supersonic ride to guests – who until now have been mostly celebrities – and anyone else who has the means.
Blue Origin is the first company to offer scheduled suborbital space tourism flights. Its main competitor, Virgin Galactic, notably made its first crewed flight – which included founder Richard Branson – before Bezos flew last July. But Virgin Galactic has yet to follow up that flight with another passenger flight after it later became clear the company’s spaceplane had deviated from its designated flight path. The company now says it is undergoing independent technology upgrades and could resume flying later this year.
SpaceX is the only private company that offers orbital travel. The company conducted the first-ever all-civilian flight into orbit last September, taking a billionaire and three of his chosen crewmates on a three-day trip. And next week, the company plans to take four paying customers on a flight to the International Space Station, which orbits about 200 miles above Earth.
Blue Origin plans to build a rocket powerful enough to reach orbit, called New Glenn. And, in light of the news that Russia can no longer sell rocket engines to the United States, those plans are more urgent than ever. The engines Blue Origin plans to use for the New Glenn, the BE-4, will also be used on a future launch vehicle designed by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing that is responsible for major national security launches in the United States. United States. ULA currently relies on Russian RD-180 engines. Its new rocket with US-made BE-4 engines is set to debut this year.
Blue Origin did not have specific updates on BE-4 when contacted for comment.