Space Tourism — the Final Commercial Frontier — Blasts Off This Summer

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

Jeff Bezos’ commercial space venture, Blue Origin, plans to launch its first crewed ship to space on July 20, aboard its suborbital space tourism rocket, New Shepard. The company announced on Wednesday that one seat aboard that flight will be auctioned off to support its Club for the Future Foundation –– the five other participants have not been announced. Virgin Galactic is also launching a sub-orbital commercial flight. But now instead of U.S. government-trained astronauts, private citizens will be taking off in these rocket ships.  It’s a short trip — passengers will spend about 10 minutes in the air and climb to more than 60 miles above Earth. Bezos is also challenging NASA’s award of a lunar lander contract to Elon Musk’s SpaceX. 

Why this Matters:  After much anticipation, space tourism is finally happening.  Really.  It’s expensive— seats on Virgin Galactic’s upcoming commercial space flight are $250,000. The price of Blue Origin’s commercial first seat will go to the highest bidder to be revealed on June 12th. In 2019, Northern Sky Research (NSR) predicted the suborbital and orbital tourism markets could be worth up to $14 billion in revenue by 2028. Other aspects of the space industry will make much more revenue —  NSR predicts that satellite manufacturing and launching will be worth $478 billion by 2029. But space tourism could get more civilians “into” space than ever before.

Out of this World

The space tourism market is heating up — in addition to Blue Origin’s upcoming flight, Virgin Galactic is selling seats on its suborbital spaceplane, VSS Unity. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has given away seats for a three-day ride in its orbital Crew Dragon capsule through a sweepstakes that will raise money for St. Jude’s Research Hospital.

The only of these companies to go public was Virgin Galactic, via SPAC in 2019. While it was initially popular among traders, its stock has plummeted because of delays in testing their plane and stock selloffs by Richard Branson and Chamath Palihapitiya. Meanwhile, Blue Origin is not yet public, and Bezos himself has been funding the enterprise by selling $1 billion of Amazon stock. 

Blue Origin’s rocket, the New Shepard, is a 60-foot-tall reusable rocket that shoots a gumdrop-shaped capsule with six seats. The capsule spends about 10 minutes floating in microgravity where Earth’s atmosphere borders space. There, passengers can float around the capsule, or stare out the vessel’s three-foot-tall windows. 

During a press conference, a reporter asked how much New Shepard interest Blue Origin has seen since teasing Wednesday’s announcement last week. Ariane Cornell, Blue Origin’s director of astronaut sales, said: “I can say that the website has gotten a workout in the last week. Obviously, we hope that is a good precursor to excitement and participation in the auction on June 12th.”

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