What would you be willing to pay to accompany Jeff Bezos on a jolting 11-minute trip into suborbital space? It’s worth $28 million, according to bidders in an auction that ended on Saturday.
The auction was launched last month, before it was revealed that billionaire founder and Amazon mogul Jeff Bezos, as well as his brother Mark Bezos, would be on board New Shepard’s first crewed mission.
During a livestream of the event, Blue Origin sales director Ariane Cornell said that 7,600 people from 159 countries had registered to bid in the auction, which was hosted by Boston-based RR Auction on Saturday. The winning bidder’s identity was kept a secret. The flight is scheduled to take off on July 20 from Blue Origin’s facilities in Van Horn, Texas.
Blue Origin, Bezos’ rocket company founded in 2000, has been testing New Shepard, a 60-foot-tall rocket and capsule system, for the better part of a decade. After 15 uncrewed test flights by the company since 2015, it will be the first time humans have flown aboard the fully autonomous New Shepard vehicle.
The company’s ultimate goal is to sell tickets to the general public, providing scenic views, a few minutes of weightlessness, and bragging rights from more than 62 miles above Earth. The 62-mile mark is the altitude at which the international boundary of outer space is considered to be reached, though the US government considers it to be closer to 50 miles. For traveling above either mark, people have been considered astronauts and have been awarded metals, pins, or “wings” throughout history.
However, it is a fraction of the cost of a more immersive spaceflight, such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s orbital trips, which will allow people to spend days orbiting the Earth or even stay aboard the International Space Station. The cost of those planned trips has not been revealed, but according to one government report, a SpaceX seat could cost up to $55 million, not including the cost of using the space station.
A Blue Origin New Shepard rocket has a very different flight profile than a SpaceX orbital rocket.
New Shepard’s suborbital fights reach speeds of around three times the speed of sound — roughly 2,300 miles per hour — and fly straight up until the rocket’s fuel runs out. At the top of the trajectory, the crew capsule will separate from the rocket and briefly continue upward before almost hovering at the top of its flight path, giving the passengers a few minutes of weightlessness. It works like an extended version of the weightlessness you feel when you reach the top of a roller coaster hill, just before gravity slams your cart — or, in Bezos’ case, his space capsule — back down to earth.
Before hitting the ground, the New Shepard capsule deploys a large plume of parachutes to slow its descent to less than 20 miles per hour.