What’s the logical next step after becoming the richest man on Earth? Become the richest man in space, of course. Announced 7 June 2021, Jeff Bezos will be flying to the edge of space on the first crewed flight of the New Shepard—the rocket ship made by his new space company, Blue Origin. It seems the memes of Bezos being an extra-terrestrial aren’t a stretch from reality after all.
The multibillionaire and founder of Amazon is one of the richest men on Earth, with a net worth of 186.2 billion, according to Forbes. If the project is successful, the billionaire space tycoon will be the first to take a ride on the rocket technology he’s already poured millions into developing. His Brother, Mark Bezos will also be joining him on this venture.
Bezos wrote on an Instagram post shared on 7 June 2021: “On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.” In the video, his brother Mark Bezos called the experience a “remarkable opportunity.”
Blue Origin is an American privately-funded aerospace manufacturer, founded by Bezos in 2000. The company has gained recent press attention from its new project, New Shepard. The company is in direct competition with other space companies set up by billionaires, such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Branson has announced that he wants to be among the first passengers on his rocket-powered plane too, due to take place later this year, but it seems Bezos has beaten him to the gun.
It has to be pointed out, not even Elon Musk—the ‘space man’ known for shaking up the privatised space industry with SpaceX, has yet to announce plans to travel space in one of his company’s human-worthy crew capsules. Can’t help but feel a friendly sense of competition here, Musk.
The New Shepard is Blue Origin’s new space tourism system—a rocket designed to carry passengers to the edge of space in a capsule-like mechanism. New Shepard has already had a number of successful test flights, like this one which launched from Texas, albeit without passengers on board.
The rocket can carry up to six people and can reach an altitude of more than 100 kilometres. Inside the capsule, you’ll find huge windows to give the passengers a premium view of the Earth while suspended in zero gravity conditions—presuming that Bezos’ giant bald head doesn’t block the view. It honestly sounds like the most exciting, ambitious and elaborate billionaire networking event ever. And there’s a chance for you to join too.
If jetting off to the edge of space with the Bezos brothers is on your bucket list then you’re in luck—there’s a seat with your name on it… Well, only if you’re loaded. A sealed online auction will run until 19 May, where the bid can go up to $50,000 with a small deposit of $10,000. After 19 May, Blue Origin will be holding a public bidding process, with a final live auction planned to go ahead on 12 June 2021.
So it’s safe to say, if you’re reading this you probably won’t have the cash available to join the Bezos brothers on their journey. It’s especially true if you’re one of his many Amazon employees who are practically facing modern-day slavery in poor working conditions. If not, get in loser, we’re going to space.
On Wednesday 12 May, Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology unveiled its plan to develop intercontinental passenger spaceships that could fly between the world’s major cities in two hours. The country’s government (along with the help of a few of its private companies) aims to achieve its goals by the early 2040s and predicts the market for spaceships departing from and arriving in Japan could reach roughly 5 trillion yen (about £32 billion) in 2040.
Utilising rocket technology, the ministry’s interim draft of its roadmap for future spaceship transportation has been split into two phases during an expert panel on the day of the announcement. In the first phase, the cost of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)’s next-generation H3 rocket will be halved from the 5 billion yen and spent on the H3 Launch Vehicle—JAXA’s new rocket whose first flight is set for fiscal 2021—by reusing parts of the rocket body, among other measures.
The cost of launching Japan’s current H2A rocket is around 10 billion yen (about £64 million). The first stage, or booster, of the rocket is disposed of after liftoff. That’s why making the country’s next-generation H3 rocket reusable would allow Japan to save money, which would ultimately be spent on innovation.
To put things in perspective, in April 2021, SpaceX successfully launched humans into space from US shores for the third time in less than a year atop a reused Falcon 9 rocket booster—the same booster that sent the Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station last November. They were also riding aboard a used spacecraft: the same Dragon capsule, called Endeavour, that NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley flew during their Demo-2 test flight in May 2020.
In other words, it’s already been proven that both NASA and SpaceX agree that reusable spacecraft are crucial for making space travel more affordable. And the concept is not that new—for years, the space agency reused its small fleet of space shuttles, but reusable rockets weren’t a reality until Elon Musk’s SpaceX entered the scene.
But let’s get back to Japan’s ambitious plans of introducing the super-rich not to the jet-set, but to the ‘rocket-set’. “The roadmap aims to launch H3’s successor rocket around 2030, and to further reduce the cost to about 10 per cent in the early 2040s,” explains an article published in Japan’s national daily The Mainichi.
Once that’s done—and that is no small feat—by utilising different techniques such as reusing rocket parts, the private sector will lead development of transport vehicles that can go back and forth between the ground and space frequently. These will be spaceships that passengers can board.
Two forms of spaceships are envisioned: one which can take off and land on runways as aeroplanes do, and the other which can take off and land vertically like the Starship launch vehicle being developed by SpaceX in the US.
Prior to considering the roadmap, the science ministry estimated the market sizes of various space ventures. It concluded that demand for high-speed transport that connects major cities on the ground would be considerable, with services offering frequent launches forming the largest market.
Although it remains unclear exactly who will have first access to the two-hour spaceship flights just yet, how much passengers will have to pay or which cities will be picked as the lucky destinations, one thing is almost certain in my mind: expect some delay. Impatient already? Why don’t you take a flight to nowhere in the meantime?