Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos, will launch a rocket into space with passengers on board for the first time in July, the company said on Wednesday.
One seat on the flight, which will carry six astronauts on a short jaunt to the edge of outer space, is up for auction.
The first astronaut flight of New Shepard, a suborbital spacecraft, is scheduled for July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
“We’ve spent years testing, so we’re ready,” Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales for Blue Origin, said at a news conference on Wednesday.
millions of people eventually living and working in space.
For now, most of Blue Origin’s business has stayed closer to Earth. It builds and sells rocket engines to another rocket company, United Launch Alliance. A rocket that would lift cargo to orbit is not expected to be ready for years, and the company recently lost a competition with SpaceX for a contract to build a moon lander for NASA’s astronauts (it has protested the award). Customers have also paid to fly science experiments for NASA and private scientists during test flights of the New Shepard spacecraft.
It has been preparing for years for the start of its space tourism program, which would offer suborbital trips to what is considered the boundary of outer space, 62 miles above Earth. A competitor, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, also plans to fly space tourists on suborbital jaunts. Virgin Galactic’s space plane, known as SpaceShipTwo, is flown by two pilots, so it has carried people to space on test flights, but no paying passengers yet.
Blue Origin’s tourist rocket is named after Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space. It has undergone 15 test flights, none of which had passengers aboard. Ahead of the latest test, in April, a crew rehearsed boarding and exiting the capsule.
For July’s crewed launch, astronauts will arrive to the launch site in West Texas four days before their flight for safety training, Ms. Cornell said.
terms of agreement for the auction listed on Blue Origin’s website, the winning bidder must have a height and weight from five feet tall and 110 pounds to 6-foot-four and 223 pounds.
The astronaut must also be comfortable with walking at heights above 70 feet above ground level on the gangway, be able to climb the launch tower — equivalent to seven flights of stairs — in less than 90 seconds and be able to fasten his or her own harness in less than 15 seconds.
The astronaut must also be comfortable with lots of pressure pressing down on him or her for several minutes during both the ascent and descent.
Proceeds from the winning bid will be donated to Club for the Future, a science and technology education foundation affiliated with Blue Origin, Ms. Cornell said.
Ms. Cornell declined to comment on potential pricing for regular tickets, and when they might go on sale for the general public. But she said there would be “a couple more crewed flights before the end of the year.”
She also declined to answer whether Mr. Bezos would be on the first flight and did not say if and when he would go to space.
Mr. Smith said Blue Origin would put in bids on a future competition. But he added, “The idea that we’re going to be able to restore competition with something that right now is completely undefined and completely unfunded doesn’t make a lot of sense to us.”
When Bill Nelson, a former senator from Florida whom President Biden has nominated to be the next administrator for NASA, testified at a confirmation hearing last week, Senator Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington and chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, asked him to commit to providing Congress with a plan for how NASA would ensure commercial competition in the moon lander program.
“I do,” Mr. Nelson said. “Competition is always good.”
Mr. Smith said that with similar programs in the past, like the space station missions, NASA had hired more than one company even though it lacked certainty on future budgets.
The Blue Origin-led bid, at $6.0 billion, was more than double the price of SpaceX’s. But Mr. Smith said NASA had gone back to SpaceX and negotiated the price of its proposal, even though it did not have similar discussions with the other two teams.
“We didn’t get a chance to revise and that’s fundamentally unfair,” Mr. Smith said.
Less than $9 billion would have paid for two landers, and that is comparable to the $8.3 billion cost of the commercial crew program that now provides transportation to the space station, the protest argued.
“NASA is getting some great, great value from these proposals,” Mr. Smith said.
NASA’s evaluations of the bids gave ratings of “acceptable” on the technical aspects of Blue Origin’s and SpaceX’s proposals. Dynetics’s rating was lower, at “marginal.” SpaceX’s management was regarded as “outstanding,” while Blue Origin and its partners were judged, “very good,” as was Dynetics.
Mr. Smith said NASA misjudged aspects of its proposal, like the communications system and redundancy in guidance and navigation, as weaknesses. He also said it downplayed the risks in SpaceX’s design like the need to refuel Starship in orbit, which has never been tried before.
With those words, the four members of the Crew-2 Dragon Endeavour began floating one by one into the International Space Station on Saturday morning, about 24 hours after their capsule lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Dragon Endeavour docked onto the space station shortly after 5 a.m., according to Space X, the company run by Elon Musk that built the spacecraft.
Waiting to greet the crew were seven astronauts who beamed and hugged each of the new arrivals as they slowly made their way through a hatch and into the station.
“Their arrival means there are now 11 humans aboard our orbiting laboratory, a number not seen since the space shuttle era,” NASA said on Twitter.
according to NASA.
The journey to the station was relatively smooth, though at one point the crew was warned that a piece of space debris was going to whiz past the capsule at about 1:43 p.m. Eastern time on Friday.
The astronauts were told to put on their spacesuits, get back in their seats and lower their protective visors. The debris was not immediately identified. NASA said the debris ended up passing about 28 miles from the capsule, a safe distance, and that the spacecraft was not at risk.
The crew will remain with three other astronauts: Mark Vande Hei of NASA, and two Russians, Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov, all of whom arrived at the station on April 9.
The four members of Crew-1, who arrived in November on the Dragon Resilience, will spend five days with Crew-2 before returning to Earth.
Douglas G. Hurley and Robert L. Behnken, who is married to Ms. McArthur — to the space station for a test flight to work out any remaining glitches in the systems.
Earlier this month, NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop a giant rocket called Starship, which the company said will one day take people to Mars. Its first mission, however, will be to drop off NASA astronauts on the moon.
Kenneth Chang contributed reporting.
Elon Musk’s private space company is developing a giant rocket called Starship to one day take people to Mars.
But first, it will drop off NASA astronauts at the moon.
NASA announced on Friday that it had awarded a contract to SpaceX for $2.9 billion to use Starship to take astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface of the moon.
The contract extends NASA’s trend of relying on private companies to ferry people, cargo and robotic explorers to space. But it also represents something of a triumph for Mr. Musk in the battle of space billionaires. One of the competitors for the NASA lunar contract was Blue Origin, created by Jeffrey P. Bezos of Amazon.
SpaceX now outshines Blue Origin and other rocket builders, emphasizing how it has become the highest-profile partner of NASA in its human spaceflight program.
The Washington Post.
NASA last year awarded contracts to three companies for initial design work on landers that could carry humans to the lunar surface. In addition to SpaceX, NASA selected proposals from Dynetics, a defense contractor in Huntsville, Ala., and Mr. Bezos’ Blue Origin, which had joined in what it called the National Team with several traditional aerospace companies: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.
The award is only for the first crewed landing, and SpaceX must first perform an uncrewed landing. “NASA is requiring a test flight to fully check out all systems with a landing on the lunar surface prior to our formal demonstration mission,” Ms. Watson-Morgan said.
NASA officials said Blue Origin, Dynetics and other companies would be able to bid for future moon landing missions.
Mr. Trump pledged a return by 2024, the schedule was not considered realistic after Congress did not provide requested financing, and NASA is now re-evaluating the schedule.
The NASA Artemis program is expected to launch its first uncrewed trip either later this year or early next year, using a powerful rocket called the Space Launch System to propel the Orion capsule, where future astronauts will be sitting, on a trip to the moon and back. The booster stage of the rocket passed an important ground test last month.
For the spacecraft that would land astronauts on the moon, NASA had been expected to choose two of the three companies to move forward and build their landers, mirroring the approach the space agency has used for hiring companies to take cargo and now astronauts to the International Space Station. Two options provide competition that helps keep costs down, and provides a backup in case one of the systems encounters a setback.
why NASA needs the Space Launch System rocket at all.
Each launch of the Space Launch System is expected to cost more than $1 billion. Because Starship is designed to be fully reusable, its costs will be far cheaper.
The Artemis plans currently call for the astronauts to launch into orbit on top of a Space Launch System rocket. The upper stage of the rocket is to then propel the Orion capsule, where the astronauts will be sitting, toward the moon.
Unlike NASA’s Apollo moon missions in the 1960s and 1970s, the lander spacecraft is to be sent separately to lunar orbit. Orion is to dock with the lander, which will then head to the surface.
But Starship will dwarf Orion in size, making the architecture similar to sailing a yacht across the Atlantic Ocean and then switching to a cruise ship for the short ride into port.
Yusaku Maezawa, has bought an around-the-moon flight on Starship. That trip, which could occur as soon as 2023, would only pass by the moon and not land.
SpaceX has been launching a series of high-altitude tests of Starship prototypes at its site at the southern tip of Texas, not far outside Brownsville, to perfect how the spacecraft would return to Earth. SpaceX has made great progress with the maneuver of belly-flopping to slow its fall, but the tests so far have all ended explosively.
Mr. Musk recently pledged that the spacecraft would be ready to fly people to space by 2023, although he has a track record of overpromising and underdelivering on rocket development schedules.
Nevertheless, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has become the workhorse of American and international spaceflight with its reusable booster stage. The company has twice carried astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, and it is scheduled to loft a third crew there on Thursday.
Numerous private satellite operators have relied on the company to carry their payloads to orbit. And another company, Astrobotic, announced this week that it had picked a larger SpaceX rocket, Falcon Heavy, to carry a NASA rover called VIPER to the moon’s south pole to prospect for ice in the coming years.
On Friday, the Biden administration also announced the nomination of Pamela Melroy, a former astronaut, to become NASA’s deputy administrator. Last month, Bill Nelson, a former Florida senator, was nominated to be administrator.