Officials with the rocket company Blue Origin said they remain on track for their first human spaceflight on Tuesday, which will carry founder Jeff Bezos and three other passengers on a suborbital hop 100 km above West Texas.
Steve Lanias, the lead flight director for the mission, said during a call with reporters that engineers completed a “Flight Readiness Review” for the launch over the weekend and found the New Shepard rocket and capsule to be in perfect condition. Weather, too, looks reasonable with any early morning storms expected to pass before the anticipated liftoff time of 8 am CT (13:00 UTC).
Bezos and the other three passengers—his brother, Mark, aviation pioneer Wally Funk, and a paying customer from the Netherlands named Oliver Daemen—underwent about 14 hours of training this weekend across two days. Their flight will be entirely autonomous. After launch the capsule will separate from the rocket, and the passengers will have about three minutes of weightlessness before they must strap back into their seats for the return to Earth. Upon reentry to Earth’s atmosphere the passengers will experience about 5 Gs as gravity exerts itself on the returning vehicle.
This particular capsule and rocket has made two flights previously, said Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith. Although Blue Origin has a handful of former astronauts on staff, the company decided to fly its first flight with Bezos, his invited guests, and a customer rather than having the former astronauts test the vehicle. “We didn’t see any value, quite honestly, in doing things stepwise in that approach,” Smith said.
An unnamed bidder paid $28 million at an auction for a seat on this flight but then backed out due to scheduling conflicts, Blue Origin said. The company then turned to a runner-up during the auction, Dutch hedge fund manager Joes Daemen. He paid an unspecified price for the seat to fly his son, Oliver.
Smith said 7,500 people from 150 countries participated in Blue Origin’s auction for the New Shepard seat. The company has not disclosed how much it will charge for seats on New Shepard, but Blue Origin seems intent on getting whatever price the market will bear, with seats on early flights expected to cost significantly more than $1 million. “The early flights are going for a good price,” Smith said.
Blue Origin plans to fly two more customer flights in 2021, and although the company did not say, it is likely to fly about a dozen such missions in 2022 as long as there are no significant technical problems.
For Tuesday’s flight, the company will provide a webcast, which is expected to begin about 90 minutes before the anticipated liftoff time. So the webcast should go live at 6:30 am local time in Texas, or about 11:30 UTC. The webcast will be embedded in this story when a link is published.