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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are pushing to launch their first paying customers to the edge of space.

Why it matters: If the two companies succeed, it will open up a new market in the space industry, one focused on consumer-driven demand for expensive trips to suborbital space.

Driving the news: Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin is planning to launch its first crewed flight on July 20.

  • One seat aboard the spacecraft is now being auctioned off to the highest bidder, with five other passengers not yet announced.
  • Blue Origin is still being tight-lipped on how much a typical seat onboard their New Shepard space system will cost, but Virgin Galactic's cost about $250,000.

The intrigue: Virgin Galactic went public via SPAC in 2019 and quickly became popular among traders as the first public human spaceflight company.

  • Recently, however, the company's stock has fallen in part due to delays in testing their space plane and stock selloffs by Richard Branson and Chamath Palihapitiya, who helped take the company public.
  • Blue Origin is not public, and Bezos reportedly has sold about $1 billion worth of Amazon stock per year to support the venture.
  • Going public via SPAC has become an attractive option for a number of space companies, in part because getting a space company functioning at a high level often involves a huge influx of upfront capital and a long development timeline.

The big picture: In 2019, Northern Sky Research predicted the suborbital and orbital tourism markets may be worth up to $14 billion in revenue by 2028.

  • That’s a relatively small amount of revenue compared to the satellite manufacturing and launch business — which NSR predicts will be worth $478 billion by 2029 — but experts think that space tourism could do wonders for the space industry at large, bringing more visibility and popularity to it.

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
May 5, 2021 - Science

Blue Origin is auctioning off a seat to the edge of space

Blue Origin's Mannequin Skywalker test dummy inside of the New Shepard during flight. Photo: Blue Origin Media

Jeff Bezos' space company Blue Origin is planning to launch people to the edge of space for the first time in July, and one seat will go to the highest bidder.

Why it matters: The flight would mark the start of Blue Origin making good on its promise to send paying customers to suborbital space, opening a new market for space tourism.

May 6, 2021 - World

Pentagon tracking path of falling Chinese rocket

A Long March 5B rocket, carrying China's Tianhe space station core module, lifts off from the Wenchang Space Launch Center in southern China's Hainan province last Thursday. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

The Pentagon said Wednesday it's tracking the uncontrolled descent of the Long March-5B Y2 rocket that carried a Chinese Space Station module to orbit last week.

Details: Defense Department spokesperson John Kirby told reporters the rocket's debris was expected to return to Earth "somewhere around" May 8 and that the U.S. Space Command has said "almost the entire body of the rocket" remains intact. "It's too soon to know exactly where it's going to come down," he added.

Ina Fried, author of Login
May 5, 2021 - Technology

How Jeff Bezos outflanked the National Enquirer

Image: Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Jeff Bezos made headlines back in 2019 when he posted on Medium that he had been having an affair with a married TV journalist and that he was writing about it because the National Enquirer had photos and was trying to blackmail him.

But there was far more to the story, as Bloomberg journalist Brad Stone details in his forthcoming book "Amazon Unbound," an excerpt of which is being published today by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.