NS-15 launch
Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle lifts off April 14 from the company’s West Texas test site. Credit: Blue Origin webcast

WASHINGTON — A seat on the first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle sold for $28 million at an auction June 12.

The live auction wrapped up a bidding process that the company announced May 5 to sell the seat on the flight, scheduled for July 20 from the company’s West Texas test site. The process started with sealed bids, followed by an online bidding process that closed June 10. Qualified bidders then participated in the final live auction, where the high bid reached $28 million in about 10 minutes. The proceeds go to Club for the Future, an educational nonprofit organization affiliated with Blue Origin.

The identity of the winning bidder was not immediately disclosed. The winner can fly on the New Shepard flight or designate another individual to go on the flight. Blue Origin’s Ariane Cornell said that the winner’s identity will be disclosed within a couple weeks, along with the fourth and final member of the crew.

Interest in the auction grew after Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos announced June 7 that he will be on the flight along with his brother Mark. The high bid for the flight went from $2.8 million at the time Bezos announced his plans to $4.8 million when the online process closed June 10.

The July 20 flight will be the first to carry people on New Shepard, which has flown 15 uncrewed test flights over several years. The most recent flight, April 14, was a dress rehearsal for crewed flights, with several Blue Origin employees playing the role of astronauts, testing getting into and out of the capsule during pre- and post-flight activities.

Blue Origin’s major competitor in suborbital spaceflight, Virgin Galactic, flew its SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity, on its first trip to the edge of space in more than two years May 22. The vehicle, with two pilots on board, flew to an altitude of 89.2 kilometers before landing back at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Virgin Galactic previously discussed performing three more SpaceShipTwo test flights through the fall before going into a maintenance period, then starting full-scale commercial service in early 2022. The next flight was to carry four Virgin Galactic employees, along with two pilots, to test out the cabin interior.

However, Parabolic Arc reported June 7 that the company is reportedly considering having its founder, Richard Branson, go on the next flight. He was scheduled to go on the second of the three flights, with the third being a commercial research and astronaut training flight for the Italian Air Force. Under that revised plan, Branson’s flight would take place around July 4, more than two weeks before Bezos goes to space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard.

In a statement June 8, Virgin Galactic said it had not yet determined the date of its next SpaceShipTwo flight, but neither confirmed nor denied the report that Branson would be on that flight.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...