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After Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin sees a ‘solid pipeline’ of paying space travelers for future flights

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Suborbital space crewmates Oliver Daemen, Wally Funk, Jeff Bezos and Mark Bezos look at the camera in front of a Blue Origin New Shepard amplifier. (Jeff Bezos via Instagram)

Jeff Bezos and his fellow crew members are still finishing their training for Blue Origin’s first crewed spaceflight, scheduled for Tuesday, but Bezos’s space company already has clients lined up for future flights of the New Shepard suborbital spacecraft. .

“We intend to have two more flights in 2021, for a total of three flights, and many more in the future,” Ariane Cornell, director of astronaut sales for Blue Origin, said today during a press conference held at the site. suborbital launch of the company in West Texas. “So we have already built a strong portfolio of clients who are interested.”

A good number of those prospects come from the auction Blue Origin closed last month to sell the available seat on the first flight. The winning bid was $ 28 million, but Blue Origin said that person had to postpone the trip due to a scheduling conflict. So the company turned to Dutch teenager Oliver Daemen, who had made a lower offer but was booked for the second flight.

Daemen took the spot and the auction winner will fly later.

Blue Origin has not disclosed the number of follow-up flyers they have signed up to pay and no fee schedule has been announced. But CEO Bob Smith suggested that the first flights won’t be cheap.

“We believe we had 7,500 people at the auction from more than 150 countries,” he said. “Generally, there is a lot of interest. So the question really comes down to what the price is. … Our first flights have a very good price. You can see that the interest during the auction was quite high. We had people well into the twenties [$20 million], all very interested. Some of that was biased, obviously, by the auction. “

Proceeds from the auction will be channeled to space-related charitable activities by Blue Origin’s non-profit foundation, the Club for the Future. But Blue Origin is intent on making a profit, and a successful flight on Tuesday would be hard to beat as an announcement.

Blue Origin’s closest competitor in the suborbital spaceflight market, Virgin Galactic, flew billionaire founder Richard Branson last week, but Virgin Galactic is still in test flight mode. Business customers shouldn’t come on board until next year. That could give Blue Origin a chance to start building its own list of paying passengers.

First on the list is Daemen, who at the age of 18 will become the youngest person to fly into space. (That serves as a historic close with 82-year-old aviation pioneer Wally Funk, who will become the world’s oldest active space flier thanks to Blue Origin and Bezos.)

In an Instagram video posted by Bezos, Daemen said he was excited to be a part of the Blue Origin team. “I feel like I have a responsibility because I’m the youngest in the space,” he said.

Cornell said the team, made up of Daemen, Funk, Jeff Bezos and his brother Mark Bezos, were finishing two days of training at Blue Origin Launch Site 1 in West Texas, which is outfitted with housing as well as a living room and a dining room. and gym. The training includes familiarization with the procedures for entering and exiting the autonomously controlled capsule, as well as the safety procedures for the flight itself. There is a mockup of the capsule available for practice.

Liftoff is scheduled for Tuesday at 8 a.m. CT (6 a.m. PT), and Blue Origin video streaming coverage is scheduled to begin 90 minutes before launch.

The crew capsule will be sent skyward by a hydrogen propellant and will separate several minutes after takeoff to continue beyond the 100-kilometer (62-mile) mark that serves as the internationally accepted space boundary. (Virgin Galactic and the Federal Aviation Administration, by contrast, use a 50-mile standard.)

At the top of the ride, all four of them can unbuckle from their seats in zero gravity.

“You can experience three to four minutes of weightlessness and you can look out of those big beautiful windows. Maybe I’ll do a few somersaults, ”Cornell said. “I have the impression that Wally Funk in particular is quite excited to be able to do some of those in zero-G, but then we will ask them to return to their seats.”

A set of parachute will help the capsule slow down as it descends into the West Texas desert, while the thruster autonomously lands on a platform located at a safe distance. All of this will take about 11 minutes, which is a few minutes shorter than NASA astronaut Alan Shepard’s historic suborbital spaceflight in 1961.

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