Blue Origin targeting July for first crewed flight, opens auction for a seat

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Blue Origin is aiming to launch its first crew of humans to the edge of space on July 20th aboard its suborbital New Shepard rocket, the company announced on Wednesday. One seat aboard that flight will be auctioned off to support its philanthropic Club for the Future organization.

“On July 20th, New Shepard will fly its first astronaut crew to space,” the company said in a press release. “We are offering one seat on this first flight to the winning bidder of Blue Origin’s online auction.” The auction starts today, the statement added, inviting the public to place a bid on its website. The statement didn’t include any information on how much each seat will cost going forward.

Blue Origin made the announcement on the 60th anniversary of the first crewed American flight to space. It’s the culmination of over a decade of rocket testing, which has been set back by delays — the company initially planned to start selling seat tickets in 2019, with a goal to fly its first crew in 2020. Flights and tickets have been coming “soon” since 2018.

New Shepard — named after the first American to enter space, Alan Shepard — is a 60-foot-tall reusable launcher designed to shoot a gumdrop-shaped capsule with seats for six passengers to the edge of space, about 65 miles above ground. The suborbital rocket has successfully flown 15 tests since its first launch in 2015, but has never flown with a crew on board. Its most recent flight, in April, served as an “astronaut rehearsal for future customer flights.” Company executives role-played astronauts and ran through a bunch of pre-flight tests, but left the capsule before liftoff.

The astronaut capsule is tailored for space tourists — each reclined seat gets its own massive window that stretches over three feet tall. The seats also come with their own push-to-talk buttons so passengers can chat with ground control, as well as tablet-sized screens fixed to the border of each window that shows live flight data and video from the launch.

Near the 65-mile altitude, the capsule separates from New Shepard, which begins its return to land guided by its single rocket engine. Meanwhile, the capsule spends about 10 minutes floating in microgravity where Earth’s atmosphere borders space. At that point, passengers can leave their seats and float around the capsule.

After basking in 10 minutes of weightlessness, the capsule starts to fall back to land, deploying a set of three parachutes to slow its return in the desert of Van Horn, Texas, a few miles from where New Shepard landed. Small rocket motors at the base of the capsule fire milliseconds before landing to soften the impact of touchdown. The capsule’s six seats are supported by a scissor-like mechanism that is designed to absorb the touchdown shock.

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Blue Origin targeting July for first crewed flight, opens auction for a seat